Kisumu, Kenya | Reuters | Kenyan police clashed with opposition supporters where burning barricades and gangs of youths prevented voting in some towns in an election re-run, seeking to challenge the credibility of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s expected victory.
In the western city of Kisumu, stone-throwing youths heeding opposition leader Raila Odinga’s call for a voter boycott were met by live rounds, tear gas and water cannon three hours after polling stations were meant to have opened. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The election is being closely watched across East Africa, which relies on Kenya as a trade and logistics hub, and in the West where Nairobi is regarded as a bulwark against Islamist militancy in Somalia and civil conflict in South Sudan and Burundi.
By and large the security situation in the country is OK. Polling stations have been opened in over 90 percent of the country and voting has commenced,” Interior minister Fred Matiang‘i told Citizen TV.
In the western town of Migori, another opposition stronghold, several hundred young men milled around on a main road littered with rubble and burning barricades, according to footage on the domestic NTV channel.
The handful of polling officials who pitched up to work in Kisumu, the scene of major ethnic violence after a disputed election in 2007, cowered behind closed doors, unable to distribute any voting material.
Such problems, already acknowledged by judges and the election commission, are likely to trigger legal challenges to the run-off and could stir longer-term instability in a country riven by deep ethnic divisions.
The re-run follows an August vote whose result – a Kenyatta victory – was annulled by the Supreme Court due to procedural irregularities.
In Kisumu Central, constituency returning officer John Ngutai said no voting materials had been distributed and only three of his 400 staff had turned up for work. One nervous official described his work in the city as a “suicide mission”.
“We don’t have any options,” Ngutai told Reuters as he and two presiding officers sorted thousands of ballot papers into piles, work that should have been completed the previous day.
Kisumu businessman Joshua Nyamori, 42, was one of the few voters brave enough to defy Odinga’s stay-away call but said intimidation had put paid to his desire to cast his ballot.
“I know it’s not a popular move,” he said. “Residents fear reprisal from political gangs organised by politicians. This is wrong.”