Wednesday 13 December 2017

16 killed as millions queue to vote in Kenyan elections

Mike Pflanz Nairobi

Millions of Kenyans defied fears of violence by queueing in lines half-a-mile long to vote in a general election, despite reports that at least 16 people were killed before polls opened.

Gangs armed with machetes, knives and bows and arrows carried out four separate attacks on voting centres close to the country's Indian Ocean coast.

News of the raids, soon after midnight yesterday, failed to deter millions of voters from leaving home before dawn. Queues formed in the dark before the official start at 6am.

Nearly 100,000 soldiers, police officers, prison guards and reservists were stationed at 33,400 polling stations across the country, and patrolled potential flashpoints.

There had been fears of a repeat of the 2007 election when 1,100 people died in six weeks of violence and 600,000 were forcibly evicted from their homes.

The only significant eruptions of violence yesterday were the coast attacks, which police blamed on the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council.

Its members warned last week that they were "prepared" violently to disrupt the elections. Nine police officers and one wildlife warden drafted in to protect polling stations were killed in Mombasa, Kenya's second city.

Boycott

A spokesman for the MRC denied involvement. The group is campaigning for coastal Kenyans to boycott the vote and instead agitate for secession.

Peter Mwangi, whose grandmother died in a fire at a church started by supporters of rival politicians after the last election, said there was "no tension" in Kiambaa, 190 miles north-west of Nairobi.

"The only problem is that this thing is complicated," he said. "People are taking long to vote, and the machines are causing problems. People don't understand exactly what they are doing."

The 14.4 million voters were choosing from 12,461 candidates for six elective positions, from president to local assemblymen.

Kennedy Omondi (31) was the first voter at his polling station in Kibera, one of Nairobi's largest shanty towns.

The thumbprint voter registration system failed to recognise him, despite millions of pounds spent on its development. Mr Omondi was eventually manually identified.

Within five minutes, however, he had marked all six ballot papers, slotted them into the clear plastic locked ballot boxes, and was ready to leave for work.

He said: "Whether you are a rich man or a poor man, everyone has one vote. It is our right as Kenyans."

Both leading presidential candidates, Raila Odinga (68), the prime minister, and Uhuru Kenyatta (51), made 11th-hour appeals to ensure their supporters voted.

Despite peaceful voting, there were still concerns that any suggestion the final result was not fair could cause chaos. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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