Isolated acts of violence marked the first day of Kenya’s presidential election as thousands lined up to vote amidst tight security. Kenya’s political class pledged to conduct a peaceful campaign after the 2007 election left hundreds dead and thousands more displaced.
In 2007, the country was riven by ethnic violence after presidential aspirant Raila Odinga alleged that the polls had been rigged to favour the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki. More than 1200 people were killed and hundreds of thousands displaced in the ensuing carnage as loyalists of either candidate attacked each other and the violence acquired ethnic and tribal overtones.
A national unity government was formed in Nairobi, with Mr. Kibaki as President and Mr. Odinga as Prime Minister, and a new constitution promulgated.
On Monday morning, police said that at least 15 people, including nine security officers, were killed when machete-carrying men attacked a police outpost in Mombasa in the restive coastal region.
Mr. Odinga said the attack was carried out the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a secessionist organisation demanding independence for Kenya’s coastal regions, but the MRC has denied these claims.
The attacks occurred before polls opened, and voting was largely peaceful with officials reporting high voter turnout.
While President Kibaki will not run for a third term, Prime Minister Odinga is one of eight candidates vying for the Presidency. Deputy Vice President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta is also running despite being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his role in the 2007 post-election violence.
The new constitution bars candidates from seeking more than two Presidential terms, and has eliminated the post of Prime Minister. The winning candidate must get over 50 per cent of the total votes cast and at least 25 percent of votes in half of Kenya’s 47 counties, failing which a second round of voting shall take place in the second week of April.
In the west of the country, U.S. President Barack Obama’s half-brother Malik Obama is running for Governor of Siaya, the county where their father Barack Obama Sr. was born and raised.
Malik Obama focused his campaign squarely on poverty eradication and infrastructure development. He said the U.S. leader had promised to visit Kenya if the elections were free and transparent.