Kenya’s opposition declared victory today in the presidential election on the basis of partial results as tensions over the vote erupted into violence in Nairobi and opposition strongholds.
Authorities, however, cautioned that not all votes had been counted and appealed for patience.
Millionaire opposition candidate Raila Odinga was ahead in partial results from Thursday’s race, and his campaign said they were sure of a win. By this afternoon, the Electoral Commission said Mr Odinga was leading with 3.7 million votes to President Mwai Kibaki’s 3.4 million with 159 of the 210 constituencies counted.
“We are confident that (Odinga) has won the election,” campaign manager Mohamed Isahakia said.
President Mwai Kibaki’s campaign urged Kenyans to wait for official results.
But the delays in counting from the country’s closest-ever presidential election ignited tensions in the capital and opposition strongholds, with thousands of people waving machetes and looting shops and homes.
In the Kibera slum, Mr Odinga’s main constituency, young men with fingers still stained with voting ink were shouting “No Raila, No Kenya!” – an ominous call to declare him the winner. Hundreds of people swarmed out of the slum, heading for town, but police used tear gas to chase them back.
Smoke was billowing out of Kibera as homes, trees and stalls caught fire.
Hamisi Noor, 22, who was standing in front of his burnt-out home in Kibera, said a crowd threatened him with machetes before setting his home on fire and cutting his father across the face.
Mr Noor, a member of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, said his assailants belonged to Mr Odinga’s Luo tribe. “I don’t know who they were,” said Mr Noor, his trousers covered in blood and mud. “But they were Luos.”
In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, about 6 miles outside the deserted city centre, police were blocking off streets as young men climbed up billboards to rip down Odinga posters.
“Kibaki come back!” the men shouted as they waved machetes and sticks.
There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.
The election marks the first time an incumbent has faced a credible challenge in Kenya’s four decades of independence from Britain. The race focused on corruption, with both candidates vowing to end the graft and tribal favouritism that has tainted Kenyan politics for years.
Violence was a major concern in the run-up to the election, and several diplomats have expressed concern that a narrow victory on either side could lead to rioting by those who do not accept or trust the results. The voting was generally orderly, and no major disruptions were reported. But as the results trickled in slowly, suspicions about rigging flared.
Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement party said the government was deliberately delaying results because they were losing. Police appealed for calm.
“We’d like the ECK (Electoral Commission of Kenya) to announce the results in order to ensure that the political temperature does not go up,” said Joseph Nyagah, an ODM official.
About 20 miles outside Nairobi, hundreds of people massed along a main road.
“They are looting houses and stoning cars,” Irungu Wakogi, a witness said.
In Kisumu, some 185 miles from Nairobi, shops were being looted and the streets were clogged with protesters.
“People are demonstrating because of the delayed announcement,” said Grace Kaindi, a police official in the city.
US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger appealed for calm.
“Give this process a chance to be finished,” he said. “This is the time for Kenyans to come together.”
Mr Kibaki, 76, has been credited with helping boost this East African nation’s economy, with a growth rate that is among the highest in Africa and a booming tourism industry.
However, his anti-graft campaign has largely been seen as a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty.
Mr Odinga, a 62-year-old former political prisoner, promised change and help for the poor. His main constituency is Kibera, home to at least 700,000 people who live in extreme poverty.
If Mr Kibaki loses, he will be Kenya’s first sitting president ousted at the ballot box.
Mr Kibaki won by a landslide victory in 2002, ending 24 years in power by Daniel arap Moi, who was constitutionally barred from extending his term. Mr Moi’s blanket use of patronage resulted in crippling mismanagement and a culture of corruption that plunged Kenya into an economic crisis.