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Suspense as Kenya awaits next move on poll dispute

If Kenya’s election dispute is not resolved peacefully, there are widespread fears it could lead to further violence and economic disruption © AFP/File / MARCO LONGARI

Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 16 – Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga is expected to unveil his next move Wednesday to contest a presidential poll he claims was rigged in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The 72-year-old cried foul shortly after vote counting began in last Tuesday’s election, sparking deadly protests in his strongholds that left at least 17 dead and 177 injured.

But the unrest has given way to a tense limbo as his supporters wait to hear if their leader will take his grievances to court, as he has been urged to do, or back onto the streets.

Initially, his decision was to have been announced on Tuesday, but he pushed it back by a day citing the “complexity and delicate nature” of discussions with his allies in the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition.

Odinga is expected to outline his strategy in an announcement at 1200 GMT, a party source told AFP.

His vow that “there is no turning back” and comments by NASA officials that court is not an option have placed the country on tenterhooks over the likelihood of a protracted vote dispute involving more violence and economic disruption.

The international community and many within Kenya have urged Odinga to use legal means to express his grievances.

The veteran opposition leader has now lost four elections and cried foul over results in the previous two.

After the 2007 vote, Odinga’s supporters took to the streets, and a resulting crackdown coupled with a wave of politically motivated tribal violence left over 1,100 dead.

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In 2013 he challenged the presidential results in court and lost.

Any legal challenge must be lodged by Friday.

– NGO ‘vendetta’ –

Odinga visited the Mathare district of Nairobi to speak with the family of young girl killed in election-related violence © AFP/File / MARCO LONGARI

A legal petition can also be filed by members of civil society.

Two of Kenya’s leading rights organisations suggested this might be behind efforts this week to shut them down — citing tax and registration issues — but on Wednesday, the government appeared to backpedal on the matter.

Interior Minister Fred Matiangi suspended action against the two for 90 days pending an exhaustive review of their status.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) viewed the move against them as highly suspicious at a time when they are weighing legal action over election “inconsistencies”.

“Every single thing happening at this moment rotates around the elections… it is all about keeping this election as opaque as possible,” said Maina Kiai, a board member of both bodies.

Civil society members saw in the move yet another attempt by Kenyatta’s government to clamp down on their activities.

Haron Ndubi, a lawyer for AfriCOG, said Kenyatta had a “vendetta” against rights groups who played an active role in seeing him indicted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in the 2007 post-poll violence.

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In 2014 the ICC dropped charges against Kenyatta citing the disappearance of witnesses and lack of evidence.

– Police brutality –

Speaking this week, Kenyatta said that if Odinga chose not to go to court, he was welcome to protest legally.

“Just do it peacefully, orderly… As a government we will not allow loss of life, destruction of property and looting,” he said.

While police deny the use of excessive force, outrage has grown over brutality during the crackdown on protesters.

On Tuesday a six-month-old baby succumbed to her injuries following four days in a coma after being clubbed during a police raid on a house during protests on Friday, her father told AFP.

A nine-year-old girl also died after being hit by a stray bullet when police opened fire in a slum.

The dispute has plunged Kenya into its worst political crisis since the 2007 post-election violence that laid bare decades-old political and ethnic grievances over access to power and land.

Three of Kenya’s four presidents — including Kenyatta and his father — have come from the Kikuyu ethnic group. The other was Kalenjin.

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That has left the Luos — Odinga prominent among them — and other major ethnic groups feeling excluded from power and marginalised for over half a century.


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