Kenya was stuck in a dangerous limbo Saturday as President Uhuru Kenyatta took an unassailable lead in a disputed poll that has sparked violent protests that have claimed nine lives.
Kenyatta was leading with over 90 percent of vote compared to less than one percent for his rival Raila Odinga, who boycotted the repeat election, according to a tally by the Daily Nation media group of unofficial results from most constituencies.
However, turnout appears headed for a record low of around 35 percent, tarnishing the credibility of an election that has deeply polarised east Africa’s economic powerhouse.
Violent protests have rocked Odinga’s strongholds in the west of the country and flashpoint Nairobi slums, with the death of a man in Homa Bay on Friday taking the death toll since election day to nine. Scores have also been wounded, many by police bullets.
Local police chief Mauris Tum said a gang of youths had stormed the home of a local ruling party lawmaker and police responded, leaving one “fatally wounded”.
In Nairobi’s poor Kawangware neighbourhood, members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe stood over the blackened remains of their houses and shops after a night of clashes with Odinga supporters.
Both sides were armed with machetes, knives, clubs and rocks. Police said officers shot one man dead but residents claim others also died or were maimed in the clashes.
What started the violence is disputed, with each side blaming the other, but both acknowledge the ethnic logic of what followed.
“We were targeted because this is a Kikuyu place,” said Geoffrey Mbithi, a 42-year-old hotelier whose three-room guesthouse is now a pile of bent and blackened corrugated tin sheets.
“This is about tribalism.”
Politics in Kenya is divided along ethnic lines, and the Kikuyu — the largest grouping — have long been accused of holding a monopoly on power and resources.
At least 49 people have now died since a first election on August 8 in Kenya’s worst crisis since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.
While the dynamics of 2017’s political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.
“From past experience, sporadic incidents of violence quickly burst into a conflagration with tragic consequences. We are likely to go this direction unless quick action is taken,” wrote the Daily Nation in an editorial.
The presidential re-run was ordered by the Supreme Court after it overturned Kenyatta’s August 8 victory over “irregularities” in the transmission of votes.
But two weeks before the new elections, Odinga pulled out, calling for a boycott on the grounds that the electoral commission hadn’t made the necessary changes to ensure a free and fair vote in a call that was widely observed.
Observers expect further legal challenges over the re-run.
‘We don’t want elections’
In some areas, mostly in the western Nyanza region where the majority of deaths have occurred, the election could not take place at all as opposition supporters blocked hundreds of polling stations from opening on Thursday.
Plans to restage voting in the region on Saturday were again delayed after election chief Wafula Chebukati said he feared for the safety of his staff.
He said a date for the vote there would be announced in the coming days.
According to the Supreme Court, the election re-run must be completed by October 31.
In Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city where three people died on polling day, opposition supporters were still on alert to block plans to deploy election material, although shops opened and transport was circulating.
At a main roundabout in the city, someone had hung up a dead cat. In recent days, ahead of each announcement, Odinga promises to announce his next moves on how to “slay the cat”.
Richard Ogilo, 24, pointed to the carcass and said: “Look there is a member of IEBC (election board) at this roundabout. This is Wafula Chebukati. Let him know that we do not want elections.”
While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta — whose fathers were rivals before them — has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.
“Leaders must now begin preaching the message of reconciliation and co-existence. Elections have deeply divided the people and we need to repair the fractures,” said the Daily Nation editorial.
Odinga has vowed a campaign of “civil disobedience” and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.