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Kenya Votes, Wary of Violence

FILE: Protesters chant slogans while marching during a protest to demand peaceful elections and justice for victims of post-election violence in Nairobi. Taken 6.23.2022

ANALYSIS - Political observers say the stakes for Kenya's August 9 general elections are ''extremely high'' and that politicians are aware of the consequences of heated utterances that risk stoking emotions among the citizenry. They say unguarded commentary from political camps can trigger unrest.

Comments by deputy president, William Ruto that he's being targeted by the camp of his former boss, Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition rival, Raila Odinga has sparked tension in a country known for electoral violence, disputes and claims of vote rigging.

Collins Odote, at the University of Nairobi told VOA that results of recent opinion polls showing a tight race between Ruto and Odinga coupled with Kenyatta's campaign against Ruto last week could be fueling tensions in both camps.

''They (referring to Ruto, Odinga and Kenyatta) owe it to the country to lower down the temperatures, reassure citizens and provide an environment where citizens can cast their ballots in an environment of hope and calm'', he said.

''Six months ago, we were hoping that we will have a 2002 moment in this election. That year, was the last time we had an uncontested election," Odote told VOA.

He went on to say "But I think that the events of the last few months, days make it very difficult to be hopeful that this (year's) election will provide a way out of such darkness'', he said.

Nairobi-based political analyst Mark Bichachi told VOA that a ruling by a High Court that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) use a complimentary voter identification system - a manual register in the August 9 polls, is a positive step to avoid electoral malpractices, hence skirmishes or violent activities.

Earlier, the IEBC had said it will not use a manual register to identify voters, but according to local media, Justice Mugure Thande found the position clearly contravened the country's constitution which stipulates that where an electronic voter identification devise fails, a voter will be identified using a manual register.

''Compared to the 2017 polls that was annulled, in this election, the IEBC has done a lot more to ensure peace and stability," Thande said, adding "We've also seen a lot of calls for peace from the government and activists. But at the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating."

However, political analyst Mark Barr said the ''aggressive and demanding'' nature of Kenyan elections make it a fertile ground for violent activities. He cited a recent report by the International Monetary Fund placing Kenya as the second worst investment destination after Colombia because of the political uncertainty ahead of Tuesday's polls.

The National Treasury and Planning Cabinet Secretary, Ukur Yatnai refuted this and said the government had employed sound economic policies that have seen the growth of foreign direct investments by 32.4% annually.

Yatnai said ''In general, even businesses come to a standstill during election day. For example, the administrator of Kisumu, the third-largest city in Kenya, decreed that on voting day, no business entity shall open until 5:00PM local time."

He added "There will be no hotels, bars, clubs, entertainment centers etc," noting ''that's how serious Kenyans take elections in this country.''

Barr went on to say ''We've a working judiciary, police and laws that are supposed to prevent violence, but often times they do not work. Because politicians have the tendency of instigating violence and driving voters to hit the streets to protest."

The analyst left responsibility for peace and order in the hands of the candidates and their parties, saying "A path to a violence-free polls boils down to the various politicians representing the people.''