Kenyan police in running battles with opposition supporters after contested poll
President Uhuru Kenyatta appeared headed for re-election Wednesday but his rival Raila Odinga claimed a massive hacking attack had manipulated results, ratcheting up tensions in opposition strongholds.
Police engaged in running battles with a few hundred protesters in Odinga’s bastion Kisumu in western Kenya, firing tear gas as his supporters set tyres alight. Burning barricades also went up in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, AFP reporters said.
With ballots from 94 per cent of polling stations counted, electoral commission (IEBC) results showed Kenyatta leading with 54.4 per cent of the over 14 million ballots tallied against Odinga’s 44.7 per cent.
“These results are fake, it is a sham. They cannot be credible,” Odinga told a press conference in the early hours of the morning as partial results fell quickly via an electronic tallying system aimed at preventing fraud.
His accusations, and the reaction from his supporters again raised the spectre of electoral violence in Kenya, still traumatised by the memory of bloody post-poll clashes a decade ago which left 1,100 dead and 600,000 displaced.
Odinga later detailed accusations of a massive hacking attack on the electronic system, saying hackers had gained entry to the system using the identity of top IT official Chris Msando, who was found murdered and tortured late last month.
“This is an attack on our democracy. The 2017 general election was a fraud,” said Odinga, claiming detailed evidence of the hacker’s movements. He would not say how he got the information, as he wanted to “protect his source”.
Odinga claimed the IEBC had not provided the scanned forms meant to accompany the results.
The 72-year-old, who is making his fourth bid for the presidency as the flag-bearer for the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, accused his rivals of stealing victory from him through rigging in 2007 and in 2013. “You can only cheat a people for so long,” he said.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati insisted the poll was “free and fair” and urged Kenyans to await the original forms backing up the results being streamed through electronically, to verify the figures seen on their public website.
“As a commission we shall carry out investigations to establish whether or not the [hacking] claims are true,” he said.
Odinga urged his supporters to “remain calm as we look deep into this matter.” But he added: “I don’t control the people.”
As his speech ended scores of supporters gathered at a roundabout in Kisumu and began burning tyres, while others gathered in a Nairobi slum under heavy police presence.
“If Raila is not president, we can’t have peace,” one Kisumu protester told AFP shortly before tear gas sent the crowd running.
Resident Geoffery Omondi, 22 shook his head as protesters lit a new fire nearby. “It is very painful to watch. The problem is the IEBC who did not announce results well.”
Local media urged the losers to peacefully accept the result and turn to the justice system with their grievances.
“The voters, too, must await the results while acknowledging that their favourite candidate can actually lose. It is a critical measure of democracy that there will be winners and losers,” read an editorial in the Daily Nation newspaper.
The normally traffic-choked streets of Nairobi were largely deserted on Wednesday, and some businesses remained closed as the country held its breath over the results.
The contest between Odinga and Kenyatta was seen by pollsters as too close to call ahead of the vote.
It is the second time the two men have faced off in a presidential election, a dynastic rivalry that has lasted more than half a century since their fathers Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga went from allies in the struggle for independence to bitter rivals.
The men belong to two of Kenya’s main ethnic groups, Kenyatta from the Kikuyu, the largest, and Odinga from the Luo.
Both had secured formidable alliances with other influential communities in Kenya, where voting takes place largely along tribal lines. In 2013 Kenyatta won by 800,000 votes.
Kenyatta, 55, is credited with overseeing steady economic growth of more than 5 per cent. However food prices have soared under his watch and several major corruption scandals broke out in his first term.
Raphael Tuju, secretary-general of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party, shrugged off Odinga’s fraud charge.
“I don’t expect anything else from NASA,” he said.
On Tuesday, Kenyatta urged Odinga to accept the result should he lose.
“I also want to say that if I lose, I will accept the will of the people,” Kenyatta said after voting.