Polls show a tight race ahead of Kenya's election tomorrow. Across the country, average Kenyans are vowing there will not be a return to the ethnic clashes that marred the country's controversial 2007 vote.
In churches and family homes, in parks and on buses, Kenyans of all faiths gathered Sunday, praying for peace during and after Monday’s elections.
At the African Inland Church in Jericho, a suburb of the capital, Nairobi, Reverend Joseph Ndebe told 400 Christians that by voting, Kenyans were showing faith in their country.
“Tomorrow all registered Kenyans are expected to be casting their vote, they will be showing what they believe in,” Rev. Ndebe said during the Sunday service. More than 80 percent of Kenyans are Christian and the church carries great influence. “There are many ways to show Christian faith in practice. Turn out to vote in large numbers,” Ndebe urged his congregation.
Some 14 million people are registered for Monday’s elections, the first since a disputed poll in 2007 led to six weeks of violence as supporters of rival politicians fought. More than 1,133 people died and more than 600,000 were violently evicted from their homes.
Those clashes caught many by surprise. This time, extensive efforts have been made to unite divided parts of the country and to remind voters that the chaos after the last election caused such trauma that it must not happen again.
At separate final campaign rallies in Nairobi, the two leading presidential candidates urged supporters gathered in a city park and a sports stadium, and millions more watching live on television, that polls must be peaceful.
Thousands cheered and shouted “our leaders, our president” as three helicopters delivered Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s deputy prime-minister and now flag-bearer for the Jubilee Alliance, and his coalition team to their rally.
He is neck-and-neck with Raila Odinga, the prime minister, with pre-election polls suggesting both men would garner around 45 percent of the votes, short of the 50 percent needed to secure a victory in Monday’s first-round. A run-off would follow in April.
But fervent followers of both camps are convinced that their man has the numbers to win, and observers have stressed the importance of the loser conceding defeat swiftly. Temperatures were raised Saturday after comments from Mr. Odinga claiming that his supporters had been disadvantaged by the country’s electoral commission “by design or omission."
“This is what we have said all along, those people in power will not let Raila win, and they are already rigging this to defeat him,” said Benson Oduor, a motorcycle taxi driver in Kisumu, Odinga’s stronghold in western Kenya.
The violence that followed the 2007 election initially targeted people from the Kikuyu tribe, which largely backed Mwai Kibaki, the current president, and of which Kenyatta is a member.
Mr. Kibaki is standing down after serving two terms.
Because Kibaki's side was suspected of rigging the vote count, his supporters faced the worst of the early clashes. Later, the violence grew to include attacks carried out by Kikuyu groups.
Peace only returned thanks to mediation by Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, who fashioned a coalition between Kibaki and Odinga, who was also on the 2007 ballot.
The current contest between Odinga and Kenyatta has largely divided the country between the main voting blocs of Odinga’s ethnic Luos and Kenyatta’s Kikuyus. There are concerns that where both tribes live together, especially in Nairobi’s slums, there could be a repeat of the violence if either side's leader claims they lost unfairly.
But most Kenyans dismiss naysayers, taking to social media and radio call-in shows to say “never again” to the dark days following the 2007 polls. A Kenyan online “incident mapping” service that was set up after the last election has been relaunched to allow ordinary citizens to tweet, email or SMS details of violence, ballot rigging or interference in the vote.
On Sunday, the overwhelming majority of posts repeated the same single word: “peace."
“Peace in Kericho county," read one report on the platform, called Uchaguzi (www.uchaguzi.co.ke), the Swahili word for "choice." “There is peace, people are waiting for tomorrow,” said another from Kabutei in western Kenya.
“Rival supporters bump into each other in central Nairobi...and HUG! Kenya election might be fine after all,” a third report said.