As election day gets closer, temperatures raising high, Tit-for-tat accusations kick in. One candidate calling another “crooked.”
Those political phenomena, familiar to voters in the United States and Europe, have surfaced in Kenya ahead of a tightly contested presidential election on tomorrow (Tuesday). But in a country with a history of election violence, the addition of such toxic behavior has further fanned fears about whether the country can pull off a credible and peaceful vote.
Two previous elections were marred by violence amid widespread claims that they had been rigged; in 2007, the disputed vote plunged Kenya into bloodshed that left at least 1,300 people dead and 600,000 displaced from their homes.
Just in the past week, there was a break-in at the country estate of the vice president, which ended after an 18-hour siege. Then, a senior election official in charge of crucial voting technology was found dead. His body, disposed of in a forest outside Nairobi.
Fearful of clashes erupting, thousands of people have already fled major cities, including Nakuru and Eldoret, in the Rift Valley region of Kenya, where some of the worst postelection violence took place a decade ago. Shortly after the 2007 election, about 50 people were burned alive as they sought refuge in a church near the city, in western Kenya. Bus tickets from Nairobi to rural cities are twice the usual price, and flights are overbooked, according to travel agencies.
“After what happened in 2007, no one wants the same,” said Vanity Kosgi, 37, a politician in Eldoret. “People learn.”
President Kenyatta, 55, who leads the Jubilee Party, will face off against Mr. Odinga, 72, a former prime minister who leads the National Super Alliance. Both men are wealthy scions of post-independence leaders, and their families have largely dominated Kenyan politics for decades.
Mr. Odinga, who is running for a fourth time, says he was robbed of victory in the previous two contests. In 2013, Mr. Kenyatta won by a tiny margin, prompting Mr. Odinga to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate the election. Mr. Odinga is now rousing supporters by warning that this year’s election could also be stolen, which critics say is an incitement to violence.
Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga were virtually tied in recent polls, but neither is drawing more than 50 percent. They are running on similar platforms economic development and have mostly appealed to voters based on ethnic affiliation.
The Kikuyus and Kalenjins, who make up a large chunk of Kenya’s population, are mainly supporting Mr. Kenyatta. The Luos, Luhyas, Kambas and other smaller ethnic groups are backing Mr. Odinga.