At least 15 people were killed in attacks by machete-wielding gangs yesterday as Kenyans lined up to vote in a presidential election they hope will rebuild the nation’s image after a disputed 2007 poll unleashed weeks of tribal bloodshed.
Just hours before the start of voting and with long lines across the east African country, at least nine security officers in Kenya’s restive coastal region were hacked to death, and six attackers were also killed, regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said. The total toll had earlier been put at 17.
There were two separate attacks, which senior police officers blamed on a separatist movement — which, if confirmed, would suggest different motives to those that caused the post-2007 vote ethnic killings and could limit their impact.
Officials and candidates have made impassioned appeals to avoid a repeat of the tribal rampages that erupted five years ago, when disputes over the poll result fueled clashes between tribal loyalists of rival candidates.
More than 1,200 people were killed, shattering Kenya’s reputation as one of Africa’s most stable democracies and bringing its economy to a standstill.
As in 2007, the race has come down to a high-stakes duel between two candidates, this time Kenyan Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the loser in 2007 to outgoing Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki. Both contenders will depend heavily on votes from tribal loyalists.
The US and Western donors are worried about the stability of a nation that is an ally in the fight against militant Islam in the region, but are also fretting what to do if the victor is Kenyatta, who faces charges by the International Criminal Court of orchestrating violence five years ago. Provisional results could emerge hours after polls closed at 5pm, although the election commission has seven days to announce the official outcome. Polls suggest the election could go to a runoff, provisionally set for next month.
“If elected, we will be able to discharge our duties,” said Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, who also faces charges of crimes against humanity. “We shall cooperate with the court with a final intention of clearing our names.”
One of the attacks yesterday took place outside Mombasa and another in Kilifi, about 50km to the north. Senior police officers blamed them on a separatist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), which wanted the national vote scrapped and a referendum on secession instead.
At the Kilifi site, footage showed a piece of paper on the ground with the words: “MRC. Coast is not Kenya. We don’t want elections. We want our own country.”
However, there was no formal claim and no independent confirmation of the assailants.