Boycott, protests and anxiety as Kenya returns to polls

Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga of the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, flanked by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho (R), stands on a car as he arrives to a political rally in Machakos, 60 km east of Nairobi on October 24, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2017
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Boycott, protests and anxiety as Kenya returns to polls

NAIROBI: Kenya stands at a dangerous crossroads ahead of a presidential election Thursday, with opposition leader Raila Odinga refusing to take part and even the country’s electoral chief casting doubt on the poll’s credibility.
The opposition has called for daily mass protests, including on election day, fueling anxiety over the outcome of an election called after the Supreme Court overturned the result of an August vote.
The annulment, based on irregularities in the electronic transmission of votes, was hailed as an opportunity to deepen democracy in a country plagued by disputed elections.
But the re-run has instead been dogged by chaos and acrimony.
Top diplomats and observers have excoriated both Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta for divisive handling of the post-election crisis instead of searching for a path to a free and fair election.
“Kenya is a critical player in regional commerce; and a respected member of the comity of nations. Such credentials must not be soiled by power-hungry politicians,” wrote the Daily Nation in an editorial, accusing both sides of playing “hardball.”
It is more than two months since Kenyans first went to the polls.
The peaceful vote quickly turned sour as Odinga called foul early on in the counting process, charging the election had been rigged in favor of Kenyatta who won with 54 percent.
The election had been billed as the 72-year-old Odinga’s final shot at the top job after three previous failed attempts, including in 2007 and 2013 when he said victory was stolen from him.
The 2007 election, which observers agreed was deeply flawed, plunged the country into politically-motivated tribal violence that left 1,100 dead.
Politics in Kenya largely plays out along ethnic lines, and Odinga — a Luo — and Kenyatta — a Kikuyu — have continued a dynastic rivalry which began with their fathers after independence from Britain.
To the shock of many, Odinga won a petition on September 1 to have Kenyatta’s victory overturned. The Supreme Court did not rule that there had been rigging, but pointed to widespread “irregularities” and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
A furious Kenyatta called the judges “crooks” and vowed to “fix” the judiciary if elected, however energetically turned back to the campaign trail to defend his victory.
Meanwhile Odinga embarked on a mission to obtain fundamental reforms of the IEBC, insisting the new election was on course to be as shoddily run as the last.
Diplomats point to key changes by the IEBC ahead of the new election, but Odinga was not swayed and with two weeks to the vote declared he would not take part.
He has said he would announce his “way forward” on Wednesday.
He has also vowed to keep on with protests, which have turned deadly in his western stronghold of Kisumu, and — in the immediate aftermath of the August election — in Nairobi slums.
At least 40 people have been killed, mostly shot dead by police, since the first election.
On Tuesday, a small crowd was teargassed in Nairobi while in Kisumu, a crowd marched to the IEBC offices and set tires alight on the street.
The dramatic election has been hit by several bombshells.
Kenyatta’s ruling party pushed through parliament electoral law amendments that the opposition said would make it easier to rig the election.
The president, facing pressure from western diplomats has yet to sign the law which the Daily Nation said was “partisan, ill-conceived, poorly timed and deviously designed to lower the threshold in electoral management.”
Then, in a further blow to the legitimacy of the election, a top election official last week fled the country and quit her job, complaining about intimidation and threats against her staff and saying the poll could not be credible.
Just hours later her boss, IEBC chief Wafula Chebukati, repeated these sentiments, saying internal divisions and political interference from both sides meant he could not guarantee a free, fair and credible vote.
Envoys from 20 countries raised the alarm Monday about the “deteriorating political environment.”
US Ambassador Robert Godec said that if the electoral commission felt it was not ready for Thursday’s poll, it should ask the courts for a delay.
“We would be fine with that,” he said.
“Proceeding under current conditions would deepen Kenya’s ethnic cleavages and prolong a stalemate that has already claimed dozens of lives and come at a high economic cost,” the International Crisis Group (ICG) said.


Cyclone death toll above 750; fighting disease new challenge

Updated 24 sec ago
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Cyclone death toll above 750; fighting disease new challenge

  • Nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, said Correia, the government’s emergency coordinator
  • Malaria is another looming health problem that the minister said was “unavoidable” because large expanses of standing water encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes
BEIRA, Mozambique: Cyclone Idai’s death toll has risen above 750 in the three southern African countries hit 10 days ago by the storm, as workers restore electricity, water and try to prevent outbreak of cholera, authorities said Sunday.
In Mozambique the number of dead has risen to 446 while there are 259 dead in Zimbabwe and at least 56 dead in Malawi for a three-nation total of 761.
All numbers for deaths are still preliminary, warned Mozambique’s Environment Minister Celso Correia. As flood waters recede and more bodies are discovered, the final death toll in Mozambique alone could be above the early estimate of 1,000 made by the country’s president a few days after the cyclone hit, said aid workers.
Nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, said Correia, the government’s emergency coordinator. As efforts to rescue people trapped by the floods wind down, aid workers across the vast region are bracing for the spread of disease.
“We’ll have cholera for sure,” Correia said at a press briefing, saying a center to respond to cholera has been set up in Beira though no cases have yet been confirmed.
Beira is working to return basic services, he said. Electricity has been restored to water pumping and treatment stations by the government water agency, so Beira and the nearby city of Dondo are getting clean water, he said. Electricity has been restored to part of Beira and the port and railway line have re-opened, he said.
Repairs and bypasses are being built to the main road, EN6, which links Beira to the rest of Mozambique and the road should open Monday, said Correia. The restored road connection will allow larger deliveries of food, medicines and other essential supplies to be to be brought to Beira and to flooded areas like Nhamatanda, west of the city.
“People are already going,” the environment minister said of the newly accessible road.
Malaria is another looming health problem that the minister said was “unavoidable” because large expanses of standing water encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Asked about his country’s current corruption scandal and whether the diversion of money has hurt the rescue efforts, Correia bristled, saying the government’s focus now is on saving lives.
“We are doing everything to fight corruption,” he said. “It’s systematic, up to the top,” he said of the anti-graft drive.
Two large field hospitals and water purification systems were on the way, joining a wide-ranging effort that includes drones to scout out areas in need across the landscape of central Mozambique, said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, deputy director of the UN Humanitarian operation.
The scale of the devastation is “extraordinary” not only because of the cyclone and flooding but because the land had already had been saturated by earlier rains, he said.
A huge number of aid assets are now in Mozambique, Stampa said: “No government in the world can respond alone in these circumstances.”