Barely a month before Kenyans vote in a hotly contested election, the opposition has alleged that there are irregularities in the electoral system. Observers are concerned about possible unrest after the polls.
Distrust is the best word to describe Kenya's political mood ahead of the upcoming elections. Just as the country was getting ready for the first presidential debate ahead of the elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta pulled out. When the last election was held four years ago he complained that the moderators' questions were biased. His main opponent, Raila Odinga, followed suit and the debate was postponed.
The move is symptomatic of Kenya's heated campaigning period, which has seen the debate over political reforms and development take a back seat. On August 8, Kenyans will not only elect the next president, they will also vote for new governors, senators and local governments.
Kenya's two major political camps, Kenyatta's Jubilee party and Odinga's National Super Alliance (NASA), generally adhere to ethnic and regional lines. Both sides complain of systematic discrimination through political influence in the media and the electoral bodies. And both sides believe that the other will try to use irregularities in the voting system to rig election results in their respective strongholds.
According to a recent audit by the consulting firm KPMG, 80,000 ghost voters were removed from the electoral register. However, KPMG suspects that up to one million more deceased voters could still be on the register.
"Ethnic and political polarization"
Kenya's opposition contested the results in both the 2013 and 2007 elections. The protests and violence that followed the 2007 elections left up to 1,000 people dead and many more displaced. In 2013, Odinga unsuccessfully contested the results in court. As the opposition fears manipulation through the electoral commission, NASA has this time announced that it plans to collate its own results at polling stations. Should these results differ from the official ones, there is bound to be political unrest.
European Union election observers are already monitoring the situation. It's no secret that there are concerns over the possible outbreak of violence, explained Marietje Schaake who heads the mission.
Kenya's National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), which was founded after the 2007-08 post-election violence, has also raised concerns over the upcoming polls. The organization's vice chairperson, Irene Wanyoike, spoke of the "widening ethnic and political polarization and increased used of inflammatory language" by the political class and their supporters.
The NCIC has flagged 20 out of 47 Kenyan counties as potential hot spots for violence. More than half of Kenya's population live in these regions. Police spokesperson Charles Owino noted that the police, security forces, secret services and the NCIC were working together to secure these areas. Kenyan media have reported that security forces in the designated areas have already received shipments of teargas to deal with the possible outbreak of violence.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst
"The question is not whether there will be violence, but to what extent," Ulf Terlinden, who heads the East Africa bureau of the German Heinrich Boell Foundation told DW. He believes that there are still ways to prevent any conflict from escalating. For one, no matter how heated the political campaigns, politicians should follow proper procedure and respect the outcome of the results.
Secondly, civil society organizations should be supported in their calls for peace and unity, and security forces should allow peaceful demonstrations. Additionally, Terlinden noted, foreign mediators should ready themselves to step in, should help be required.
Both political camps are confident of victory, but opinion polls predict a close result. Yet forecasts are difficult, as the number of voters since the last election has risen by 36 percent. Whether the new voters will follow old patterns and vote along ethnic lines, will only become clear on August 8. Most of these people are young, explained Terlinden. He sees them as a chance for political change. "The youth have huge problems with unemployment and in the area of education. They have a chance to move away from the old ethnically dominated mind-set. At least there is a tendency in this direction," Terlinden added.
Jacob Bomani contributed to this report.