Amid international concerns of post-election violence, Kenyans are casting their ballots on Tuesday in one of most tightly contested presidential elections in the eastern African nation’s history.
“I will cast my ballot first thing in the morning and leave,” Michael Otieno, a carpenter based in Nairobi, said Sunday. “I am not sure about my security in the city.”
Mr. Otieno was one of thousands of Kenyans fleeing major cities for their rural homes to wait out the election, as memories of violence after a contested 2007 presidential election bubble to the surface. The aftermath of that vote saw a two-month wave of attacks that left 1,000 people dead and 600,000 displaced.
Since then, Kenya has upgraded its voting system, incorporating biometric voter identification and electronic transmission to reduce the chance of fraud. For Kenyans, the election is an important milestone to cement their status as a relatively stable, democratic economic powerhouse. Those same attributes have made the campaigns closely watched beyond Kenya’s borders, as well.
But several recent events have undermined faith in a fair election. Now, whether peace will prevail during and after the polls is again a concern for many citizens.
“I want to ask everyone to pray for peace as we go to the general elections,” President Uhuru Kenyatta told an anxious nation at Sunday church service in Nairobi.
Mr. Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are the front-runners. Kenyatta, a son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, is seeking re-election under the ruling Jubilee Party (JP), while Mr. Odinga is the National Super Alliance (NASA) opposition coalition candidate.
“Kenya’s election is important since this will be the first since the end of the ICC process following the 2007 violence,” says Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, chief frontier markets analyst at DaMina Advisors in New York, referring to International Criminal Court charges of inciting post-election ethnic violence against Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. Those were dropped in 2014 and 2016, respectively. A peaceful outcome could “signal that Kenya is once again one of Africa’s most stable democracies,” Mr. Spio-Garbrah adds.
Long voting queues formed on Tuesday, with citizens arriving at polling stations as early as 4 a.m. Some voters said they had even left hospitals to cast their ballot, with Kenyan media reporting that one woman gave birth at…