Elections bring hope and fear to Kenya | Africa | DW | 03.03.2013
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Elections bring hope and fear to Kenya

The mood in Kenya was tense as polling stations opened on Monday (04.03.2012). Most people still remember images from bloody riots following the vote five years ago. But this election will be different, observers say.

The sound system of the pick-up truck blares out loud music - mixing with the driver's shouts. "Let us have a peaceful election!" he yells.

These days, everything in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, seems to be calling out for peace, no matter where you are - billboard signs, editorials in local papers and even the final public appearances of the candidates. The muddy roads in slums like Kibera, one of the hotspots of post-election violence in December 2007, are covered with flyers. A young man named Edwin is holding a large pack of them in his hands, passing them to anyone crossing his path. "Our message is, 'we don't want any problems here,'" he says.

Appeals for peace from the back of a pick-up truck in the streets of Nairobi (c) DW/M.Braun

Appeals for peace from the back of a pick-up truck

Around the corner, a vegetable vendor is confident that things will be different this time. "I know it's going to be a good election. There is no reason for violence," she says, while peeling potatoes. A young man nearby, holding a bottle of beer, vows to accept the result even if the party he supports doesn't win.

"People have always known that we are quote, end quote, 'hooligans.' But this time around we wanna show the world that we are civilized. I think we learned from the mistake we did last time," he says.

Fears of violence

But not everyone in Nairobi is that confident. In another part of town, a man loads his car with as much of his personal belongings as possible. And his children are getting into vehicle. Despite living in Nairobi, he'd rather go and vote in his hometown.

Others are staying on - fearfully. A woman who doesn't want to be named recalls a recent incident in which a young man threatened one of the residents.

"He said 'you Kikuyus, what are you still doing here? Stay until Monday and don't say we didn't warn you,'" she says.

Edwin hands out flyers in the slums of Kibera (c) DW/M.Braun

This young man is handing out flyers in Kibera to promote peace during the elections

For voters in Kenya, the ethnic background of a candidate plays an important role. Kiberia is a stronghold for Prime Minister Raila Odinga, a member the Luo group, who is standing against Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu.

The two of them are the most promising candidates in the run-up to the election - opinion polls show the other six candidates lagging far behind. Thousands of supporters cheered at their final campaign speeches in Nairobi. And while both Kenyatta and Odinga stated that they would accept the outcome of the vote, they both promised victory to their supporters.

New technology to combat election fraud

Many people in Kenya doubt that Kenyatta or Odinga will reach the absolute majority necessary to win the election by the end of Monday (04.03.2012). Once again, the results are likely to be tight, and the danger of votes being manipulated remains high.

Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga (C) waves alongside his Coalititon for Restoration of Democracy (CORD) alliance partners (c) Will Boase/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, one of the leading candidates, lost the 2007 election by a margin

That's why Kenya's electoral commission is pushing for more transparency. For example, apart from having to present their IDs, voters will be fingerprinted - a measure that has been welcomed by Milly Lwanga from the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

"One of the things that Kenyans have complained about in past elections is dead voters voting, or missing people or people voting twice," she says. "And this is just a guarantee. It's an extra step which has been taken to guarantee that the actual person will be voting."

But the problem is that the information has not reached the Kenyans, Lwanga notes. Even though most Kenyans are not entirely familiar with the technology used at polling stations and the electoral commission has been criticized abroad, surveys show a high degree of trust in the organization of the election. To strengthen the credibility of the results, the votes are to be counted very swiftly, in order to avoid any impression that there is time to manipulate the results.

Peace work not in vain

However, this election is different from previous ones, says Karsten Dümmel, the head of Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Nairobi. For one, the TV debate, which included the eight candidates, set a positive example in the name of peace, he notes.

Kenya's Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (R), who is also the Jubilee Alliance Presidential candidate, speaks with his running mate William Ruto on February 13 ,2013 before addresses supporters during a political rally in the capital Nairobi (c) SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Deputy PM Uhuru Kenyatta (right) still faces international court charges after the 2007 violence

"Besides, many NGOs, including the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, have been doing work at hotspots for years," Dümmel explains. "So much has happened there. Out of different ethnic organizations, organizations spanning different ethnic groups have developed. I can't imagine this was all for nothing."

Still, he doubts whether the losing side will contain emotions.

Regardless of the outcome - preparations for a worst-case scenario are underway. Supermarkets and office buildings have put up barbed wire. And foreigners, in particular, have stocked up supplies in their hopes. In the slum of Kibera, people are waiting - hoping for the best.

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