Kenyans take no chances ahead of high-stakes election

Nairobi (AFP) – In recent days, the queues of early morning travellers at Nairobi’s long-distance bus stations have been thick with people seeking to leave the city.

In supermarkets, the aisles are cramped with shoppers pushing convoys of trolleys stacked high with provisions.

In the runup to Tuesday’s elections the signs were clear: a tight race and a history of political violence meant many Kenyans were taking no chances, choosing to head for the sanctuary of their ethnic heartlands for the election period.

Some will vote there, where they are already registered, but others are trading their franchise for safety.

“You cannot predict how the situation will be,” Ezekiel Odhiambo told AFP at a Nairobi bus terminal after putting his five daughters on a bus headed to the countryside.

Worries like these are common around election time in Kenya, exacerbated by memories of the bloody months after the disputed 2007 vote, when politically-motivated ethnic violence killed at least 1,100 people and displaced 600,000.

This year, security chiefs say there will be 180,000 officers on the streets — everyone from the police to the forest service — to ensure the vote is at least as peaceful as it was during Kenya’s last election in 2013.

Still, people are “hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” said Peter Wairimu, a petrol station attendant, where sales have dropped off in recent weeks as people have left town.

– Getting ready –

The two main candidates in this election are well-known to Kenyans.

Uhuru Kenyatta has been president since 2013 and is standing for a second term, while Raila Odinga is a longtime opposition leader who disputed his defeat in both 2007 and 2013.

In the run up to this week’s vote, both candidates have refrained from making inflammatory speeches, observers say, perhaps a consequence of the International Criminal Court’s now-abandoned indictment of Kenyatta and his running-mate William Ruto for their alleged roles in the 2007 bloodshed.

Yet people are nervous: hate speech flyers and text messages have been circulating, both candidates have accused the other of underhanded campaign tactics and seem convinced that anything other than victory will be evidence of rigging.

Many Kenyans simply don’t trust their politicians not to stir up trouble.

Editar Ochieng, a resident of the Nairobi slum Kibera, where clashes broke out in 2007, has sent her two daughters out of town for the duration of the elections.

“I don’t want to play a 50-50 betting game. I…

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