Thousands of Kenyans enraged over delays in announcing the country’s next president burned down homes and clashed using sticks and machetes, tainting a vote that initially was seen as a beacon of hope for democracy in Africa.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga clung onto his razor-thin lead by 38,000 votes, but the electoral commission suspended announcing results last night, promising to look into allegations of fraud.
“If they don’t announce results in two hours we are going to burn this place down,” shouted 23-year-old John Odhiambo as youths armed with metal rods looted a flaming market behind him in Kenya’s biggest slum.
Police said violence claimed at least three lives across Kenya yesterday as supporters of the rival candidates fought with police and each other.
Thursday’s vote pitted President Mwai Kibaki against flamboyant challenger Mr Odinga in the country’s most closely fought election since independence from Britain in 1963.
If Mr Kibaki loses, he will be Kenya’s first sitting president ousted at the ballot box.
Yesterday, both parties announced they had won the election but the electoral commission said counting was not finished. Despite pleas from both parties to announce results quickly, chairman Samuel Kivuitu said he would suspend announcing results until today to investigate any allegations of fraud.
Already frustrated by delays, slum dwellers quickly latched onto wild rumours of tit-for-tat ethnic killings and young men hacked apart wooden fence posts to use as weapons. In the Luo section of the slums, staggering silhouettes emerged from clouds of tear gas mixed with the acrid smoke from burning tires.
Mr Kibaki is a Kikuyu, while Mr Odinga is a Luo.
“Even if it means death for us, we are ready to die for the next generation,” 25-year-old Kennedy Owirah said.
As the violence spread to several cities and residents of the capital Nairobi boarded up their shops, Police Commissioner Hussein Ali appealed for calm, insisting: “There cannot be democracy where people think they can get recourse through hooliganism.
“Holding an election does not mean that the law has been suspended.”
Hundreds of people died in election-related clashes in months leading up to the election and several diplomats expressed concern that a narrow victory on either side could lead to rioting.
But most observers said the vote itself appeared generally orderly, with no major disruptions reported, although they declined to issue their final reports until the commission announced a winner.
But the slow pace of announcing results has led to accusations of rigging on both sides. Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement party said the government was deliberately delaying results because it was losing. Mr Kibaki’s Party of National Unity insists it want the results released quickly, but says they have a list of grievances it wants addressed.