Kenyans will go to the polls tomorrow to elect their next president. The choice is between their current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and challenger Raila Odinga. Opinion polling has left experts calling the race a toss-up. But, the country itself may be a winner regardless of the outcome if it can avoid widespread violence.
Less than a week ago, on July 31st, the person in charge of Kenya’s electronic voting system was found murdered. His body showed signs of torture. It is not clear who the guilty party is yet, but clearly, it was someone trying to influence the outcome of the election. About 180,000 police officers and soldiers are scattered throughout the country to guard voting locations. But, with an expected tight race, it is possible that both sides will claim the other cheated should they lose. Elections in Kenya are often contested and won or lost along tribal lines, further heightening the spectre of violence. Mr. Kenyatta, the incumbent, belongs to the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe, while Mr. Odinga identifies with the Luo and other smaller tribes scattered throughout communities in Kenya.
It is not only the presidential election that will count but thousands of local elections in which voters return to their home towns to cast ballots. Nairobi supermarkets were overflowing with people today, as many residents fear they may be forced to wait out a period of violence before they can safely return to their lives.
Kenya is prepared for negative outcomes, likely limiting the spread of violence, should there be any. The pity is that with such a large amount of focus placed on potential violence and tribalism, the tangible issues of corruption and economic growth may continue to be ignored.