Nairobi, Kenya | AFP | Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta warned Thursday against violence as election season gets into full swing, with chaotic party primaries already leading to bloody scuffles.
East Africa’s largest economy holds a general election on August 8, a decade after disputed poll results fuelled violence that left more than 1,100 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
“As a party, we will not tolerate violence. As president, I will also not tolerate violence and anybody who engages in acts of violence will be dealt with in accordance with the law, irrespective of who they are,” Kenyatta told a press conference in Nairobi.
Kenyatta, 55, is seeking a second term in office with his Jubilee Party and will again run alongside his deputy William Ruto.
In Kenya, politics is hard-fought and victory decided in large part along ethnic lines, with political alliances mostly based on who can lure which votes from the “Big Five” — the main ethnic groups who can influence the outcome of the vote.
The two men’s alliance in 2013 brought together two ethnic groups who had clashed violently in 2007, Kenyatta’s majority Kikuyu tribe and Ruto’s Kalenjin.
They also managed to win despite crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over their role in the 2007 violence which were later dropped.
– ‘Big announcement’ –
In a bid to unseat the powerful team, five opposition heavyweights have united in a coalition called NASA but have spent months agonising over the winning combination of flag-bearers that will draw in the most votes from key tribes.
At a large rally on Thursday opposition party leader Moses Wetangula said the “big announcement” would be made next Thursday, just over 100 days from voting — a fact the ruling party has used to paint the opposition as disorganised and rudderless.
All eyes will be on the position taken by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, 72, who likely faces his last shot at the presidency after losing three past elections. In both 2007 and 2013 he blamed his loss on vote rigging.
About 19 million voters have been registered to take part in the election, pending a final audit to remove dead voters or double listings, of a population estimated by the World Bank at 46 million.
The country is already gripped by election fever and primaries to choose candidates for local government and parliament have seen violence and dramatic last-minute floor-crossings.
Albino lawmaker Isaac Mwaura claimed on Facebook he had been shot in the ear and his car sprayed with bullets in an “assassination attempt” while out campaigning for Jubilee, just days after defecting from Odinga’s ODM party, the main opposition group.
Dozens have been injured in clashes over nominations, including at ODM headquarters in Nairobi earlier this month when youths supporting one nominee for senator drew guns claiming her rival had already secured the party ticket.
On Wednesday, local media reported fistfights between rival supporters of ruling party candidates which left at least nine injured while one aspirant was hospitalised with neck injuries.
It appears the scourge of fake news has also taken hold.
A spate of kidnappings of politicians — who disappear and then resurface in mysterious circumstances days later, claiming to have been drugged and held hostage — has stumped police and raised suspicions that they are being faked to draw attention.
“The challenge is that it is difficult to verify the claims. It is not right for politicians to cause anguish to people by playing pranksters in the name of public sympathy to win votes,” read an editorial in the Daily Nation newspaper Thursday.