Kenyan voters must vote six times to determine the political future of this country considered a democratic island in an unstable region, but which was also the scene of serious violence fifteen years ago. From the financial center to the slums of Nairobi, as well as in several regions of the country, long queues formed in the darkness in front of the polling stations, which opened at 6 am. “I got up early to come and choose my leader, who will bring about change. I have hope,” says Moses Otieno Onam, 29, in the middle of a joyful crowd in Kisumu, a large city in the west.
Presidential election in Kenya: Raila Odinga or William Ruto, who will succeed Uhuru Kenyatta?
The duel promises to be tight between the two main candidates for the presidency, figures of the political landscape: Raila Odinga, 77, veteran of the opposition now supported by power, faces William Ruto, 55 ans, vice-president who is seen as a challenger. The latter voted shortly after 6 a.m. in the village of Kosachei, in his stronghold in the Rift Valley. “This morning is D-Day,” commented this devout “born again” Christian after praying and slipping his ballot into the ballot box alongside his wife. “I want to ask all other voters (…) to vote consciously and decisively to choose the men and women who can move this country forward for the next five years,” Ruto added.
If neither of the two adversaries, who know each other well for having been allies in the past, obtains more than 50% of the vote, Kenya will experience a second round in a presidential election for the very first time. Whatever the outcome, the new president will mark history by not belonging to the Kikuyu community, the first in the country, which has controlled the top of the state for twenty years and from which the outgoing Uhuru Kenyatta comes – whom the Constitution prevented re-election after two terms.
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Voters must decide between a Luo (Odinga) and a Kalenjin (Ruto), two other important communities in the country. In this country historically marked by the tribal vote, some experts believe that this factor could fade this year in the face of economic challenges, as the soaring cost of living dominates people’s minds.
The pandemic, then the war in Ukraine, have hit this regional economic engine hard, which despite dynamic growth (7.5% in 2021) remains very corrupt and unequal. “We want jobs, jobs, jobs,” insisted Grace Kawira, a 32-year-old day laborer, at a meeting of William Ruto, who sets himself up as a defender of the “resourceful” and hammered home his ambition to “reduce the Cost of life “. Odinga has his promised to make Kenya “a dynamic and global economy”, composed of a single “great tribe”.
Specter of violence
Historically, the ethnic component has fueled electoral conflicts, as in 2007-2008, when Odinga’s contestation of the results led to inter-community clashes resulting in more than 1,100 deaths. Fifteen years have passed but the specter of this violence continues to hover. In 2017, dozens of people died in the crackdown on protests, after Odinga again challenged the results of the vote – ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court in a landmark ruling.
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“Kenya votes, East Africa holds its breath,” headlined The East African August 6. But the respected weekly added that “Kenya has made great strides in its democratic evolution, and is in fact regarded as a mature democracy by regional standards.”
Apart from rare incidents and an impressive flow of misinformation on social networks, the campaign was peaceful and the two favorites called for calm. Some 150,000 officers are to be deployed across the country, however. On Monday, life was going on in Nairobi, even if the capital seemed somewhat languid, due in particular to the closure of schools and the departure of many voters to their region of origin.
Diplomatic sources said they were hopeful that calm would prevail on voting day before insisting on the issue of speed in the publication of the results in this country marked by suspicion of fraud. The Electoral Commission, under extreme pressure and which had to cancel four local elections on Monday due in particular to problems printing the ballots, has until August 16 to announce the results. The approximately 46,000 polling stations must close at 17 hours.