Kenyans divided as they mark Mashujaa ′Heroes′ Day | Africa | DW | 20.10.2017
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Kenya

Kenyans divided as they mark Mashujaa 'Heroes' Day

The ruling party and opposition supporters today gathered to hear the two main presidential candidates as they marked Kenya's Heroes or "Mashujaa" Day.

Mashujaa, or 'Heroes' Day is usually a day reserved to celebrate Kenyans who fought for the country's independence or contributed to building and strengthening the nation. In the last few years, the day was a time to reflect on Kenya's past. But just under a week before the re-run of the presidential elections, the nation appears divided.

Next to the national celebrations held in Kenya's capital Nairobi, opposition leader Raila Odinga held his own event in his stronghold - Kenya's third-biggest city, Kisumu. And while both incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga voiced reconciliatory words, asking Kenyans to refrain from violence against supporters of different political sides or ethnic backgrounds, the battle lines are drawn.

Kenyatta once again made clear his intention to participate in a re-run of the presidential elections on October 26.However Odinga has said that he will not take part in the re-run and on October 19 and his National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition also announced plans to hold mass protests on election day. After meeting the electoral commission's chairperson, Wafula Chebukati, Odinga told reporters that if serious reforms were undertaken, NASA might reconsider it's boycott. But for now at least, next week's election seems likely to be a shaky affair.

Raila Odinga (Reuters/J. Okanga)

Raila Odinga and his NASA coalition plan to boycott the elections

The possible scenarios

So what could happen after election day? Kenyan political analyst, Martin Andati, thinks that if the election goes ahead without the main opposition coalition, Kenyatta will walk away with a landslide victory. "The withdrawal of Odinga has caused a complication because what is likely to happen is that there is a very big likelihood that NASA strongholds will not have any elections, or at least the numbers won't be significant."

However Andati believes that if this were to happen, the election result will likely be challenged in court. One key reason for this could hinge on the electoral commission itself. Earlier this week, commissioner Rosalyn Akombe resigned and fled to New York, saying that she believed that the commission could not guarantee a credible election and that she did not want to take part in "such mockery." She added that she feared for her safety in Kenya, as well the safety of the commission itself on the ground.

"The constitution says we are supposed to have six commissioners plus the chairman. So one commissioner, Rosalyn Akombe has resigned, so somebody can go to court and challenge the legitimacy of the vote," argues Andati.

In addition to Akombe's resignation, commission CEO Ezra Chiloba announced on Friday that he would be taking three weeks leave in response to pressure from the opposition for him to step down.

If the elections aren't held, says Andati, there are no clear rules to follow. "These are all grey areas in the constitution. Nobody envisaged a situation where the constitution does not clearly state what will happen under such circumstances. So we are in it for the long haul," he adds.

Only one thing remains clear: Kenyatta will remain president until either he, or another candidate is elected.

Kenya is highly polarized and it is at a standstill, says Andati. The feeling is palpable: "There's quite a bit of fear in the air. Many people are retreating to their villages. Because there are fears that there is going to be violence after the elections."

Tension at election time is not new to Kenyans. In 2007, they culminated in three months of post-election violence that saw ethnic politics boil to the surface. Over 1100 people were killed and thousands more  were displaced.

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