Kenya found itself in a dangerous limbo on Friday as violent protests rocked opposition strongholds a day after a deeply divisive election that has left seven dead. Plans to restage elections in the western Nyanza region where violence blocked voting on Thursday were again delayed as election chief Wafula Chebukati said he feared for the safety of his staff.
The crisis, the worst in a decade, has cast a shadow over east Africa’s most stable democracy and economic powerhouse.
Protests raged in western towns and the Nairobi slum of Kawangware as election officials counted votes from a ballot set to hand President Uhuru Kenyatta a landslide win after a boycott by his rival Raila Odinga.
Initial turnout figures suggested only about a third of registered voters turned up, tarnishing the credibility of an election boycotted by a large part of the 19.6 million registered voters.
In the western town of Bungoma, one man was shot dead Friday during a confrontation with police, witnesses and police said.
There were also chaotic scenes in Migori where police engaged in running battles with youths, as well as demonstrations in the western city of Kisumu, AFP correspondents said.
In Nairobi’s Kawangware slum there were also scuffles, with opposition supporters setting light to shops belonging to members of Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe, an AFP correspondent said.
A group of young men wielding machetes could also be seen roaming around, and an AFP photographer saw a man with a deep gash to the back of his head.
At least five people were killed during Thursday’s vote, and around 50 others wounded, most of them by live bullets, according to an AFP tally of figures from officials and medics. Another succumbed to his injuries on Friday morning, medics said.
The confirmed casualties raised to 47 the total number of people killed in election-related violence since the August poll.
– Worst crisis in a decade –
The crisis is the worst since a 2007 election sparked politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 dead.
Thursday’s vote was the chaotic climax of a two-month political drama that began when the Supreme Court overturned Kenyatta’s victory in August 8 elections due to “irregularities”.
Odinga refused to take part in the re-run on the grounds the election commission had failed to make the necessary changes to ensure a free and fair vote and his supporters barricaded polling stations and blocked voting in several areas.
Thursday’s violence prompted the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to delay elections in western counties until Saturday.
But the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition slammed the move as an attempt by security forces to further crack down on the Luo ethnic group of leader Raila Odinga.
As the violence spilled into Friday, Chebukati made a further announcement, saying Saturday’s vote would be delayed to a “further date to be announced in the coming days”.
According to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the election re-run had to be held by October 31.
It was also unclear clear how the delay would affect the announcement of poll results.
– More unstable than ever –
While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta — whose fathers were rivals before them — has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.
Mudavadi said the low turnout proved that Kenyatta had in fact lost the election in August.
Kenya is now “more fractured and unstable than ever before”, the Daily Nation concluded in an editorial on Friday. “There is a need to forge inclusivity.”
Odinga has vowed a campaign of “civil disobedience” and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.
Kenya has so far spent some $500 million (431 million euros) on two elections in three months.
While the August election saw long queues of voters, Thursday’s vote was a different story with many polling stations empty or welcoming only a trickle of people.
Earlier on Friday, the election commission said data from over 90 percent of constituencies showed less than 35 percent of voters had cast their ballots.
“The message sent by the population (Thursday) was very clear, and I don’t think you have to force the election, otherwise there will be more deaths,” a polling officer in Kisumu said on condition of anonymity.