NAIROBI — In one of the most closely watched electoral races on the African continent, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta will face off Tuesday against longtime rival Raila Odinga. The race is projected to be tight.
Some argue the candidates have not stopped campaigning since the last election, in 2013, that also pitted them against each another.
“There’s a sense in which the elections have occupied the collective national consciousness of the Kenyan citizen and the voter, so it’s a big deal,” said Kenyan political writer and commentator Barrack Muluka.
But more than the presidency is on the ballot.
Ipsos research analyst Tom Wolf believes that the 47 county races are generating at least as much attention as the presidential contest, definitely more so than in 2013, he says.
“But maybe Kenyans, and we’ve seen this in our polling data, did not fully understand or appreciate just how much power or responsibility was being devolved from the center to the regions, for the counties,” said Wolf. “So if you go and travel around the counties now, you will see as much, if not more, campaign activity that’s associated directly for the contest for governor as there is for the presidency.”
The organization of the polls has been a source of tension for more than a year, sparking opposition protests and several court battles.
Complicating matters is the recent killing of the electoral commission’s technology chief, Chris Msando. Autopsy results show he was tortured and strangled. Msando was responsible for the electronic voter identification and vote transmission systems.
“There’s every possibility of people tying that passing on to the elections and to the possibility that there could be foul play,” said Muluka. “Remember we are not saying that there’s definitively anything like that, but the context opens up space for that kind of speculation.”
And that hasn’t been the only drama in the home stretch of Kenya’s campaign season. A break-in occurred at the country home of the vice president on Saturday, July 29, and, this past Friday evening, the opposition said that men dressed in plain clothes raided one of its offices. Also on Friday evening, two of the opposition’s foreign electoral advisers, an American and a Canadian, were seized from their apartments and deported Saturday..
Fake news has also been a problem, with GeoPoll results suggesting that 90 percent of respondents had seen ‘false or inaccurate information’ around the elections, and 87 percent viewed this information as “deliberately false.”
For at least a week, people have been leaving Nairobi and other towns for their home villages; some for voting purposes and others for fear of violence.
Lane Bunkers is the country representative for Catholic Relief Services in Kenya. He says that against the backdrop of the election season, Kenyans are still suffering from problems resulting from a regional drought emergency, like food insecurity and high food prices.
“There are a lot of serious challenges facing the people of this country, so I’m hoping for a strong outcome with elected politicians who will take their jobs seriously, and really perform for the people who are electing them,” said Bunkers.
Youth took to the streets of Eldoret Friday to march for peace. Kenya’s Rift Valley region was the epicenter of the post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced over half a million.
Kenyans hope these elections will be free of violence.