Kenya elections: a nation defies threat of violence as polling queues stretch for miles

The memories of 2008's deadly clashes were still fresh, yet voters remained determined to have their say

The count was underway by gas-light across Kenya tonight in what is being seen as the country's most important election in a generation.

First light this morning revealed crowds of voters, many of whom spent the night outside polling stations in their determination to cast their ballots. A nervous start to the day was assured by the news that at least 15 people had been killed in pre-dawn attacks blamed on separatist groups along Kenya's Indian Ocean coast. Later, the country's deputy speaker of parliament said gunmen had attacked two polling stations near the border with Somalia.

The contest pits Raila Odinga, the man most observers believe was denied a narrow victory at the last polls against Uhuru Kenyatta, a politician due in the dock at The Hague for his alleged role in the post-election violence that killed more than 1,300 people in 2007.

Despite today's killings near Mombasa, the worst that most voters had to contend with for the rest of the day were epic queues produced by the combination of a record turnout and delays inflicted by a new computerised voter identification system. "They told us to come in large numbers and now we've come they can't handle us," said Calvin Odongo, a pharmaceuticals worker who was forced to wait for eight hours in the centre of Nairobi.

For the past five years, Kenya has been haunted by the aftermath of its last election where a rancorous campaign followed by a disputed result tore apart the country's patchwork of ethnic groups. Anthony Mbua was among the gangs of young men who rampaged through the city's slums as 2007 entered 2008 fighting and dying. Today the unemployed 30-year-old voted peacefully in Kibera, the vast and ethnically mixed slum which saw some of the worst violence: "We were looting and burning for the president we wanted," he said. "But not this time."

Ten buses a day have been emptying the slum of those who do not dare risk a repeat of the last election. But Rose Odhiambo, a tailor who lost her home and business last time, was among the majority who stayed. This time around a new constitution, a respected new head of the judiciary and an improved electoral authority has many Kenyans hoping for a fairer outcome. "We won't accept the wrong result," she warned. "The one who is going to win must win fair whether it's my candidate or not."

Sadly those sentiments have not been echoed by the main rivals for the presidency. Mr Odinga has told his supporters he can only lose if the contest is rigged and that he would not accept a rigged outcome. Meanwhile, Mr Kenyatta, who has poured an unknown amount of money into his campaign, has publicly fed the expectation that his Jubilee coalition will win with the 50 per cent-plus-one needed to take the presidency in the first round. A run-off between the pair, to be held within 30 days, remains the more likely result.

Both men have based their campaigns on ethnic alliances, recruiting the big men from Kenya's 40-plus tribes into their rival camps.

The election is widely seen as the 67-year-old Mr Odinga's last chance for the top job, while Mr Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, need to win to protect themselves from the International Criminal Court.

Beyond its strategic importance as East Africa's biggest economy and hub for international security and aid operations, Kenya's election is closely watched for signs that the "Africa rising" narrative of economic growth is set to accelerate. The country's burgeoning middle class and diversified economy make it an ideal testing ground for the notion that progress on the continent is down to more than a repeat of past commodities booms.

Norbert Talam, a bank manager voting in the emerging middle class suburb of Buru Buru said his country was at a "crossroads" with a return to tribal clashes less likely than some analysts have predicted. He pointed to the rash of big firms like Toyota and Pepsi opening operations in the country.

"Kenya's on the verge of taking off," he said. "With a peaceful election the foreign investment will come and the sky is the limit."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
filmIdris Elba responds to James Bond rumours on Twitter
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015