Voting is underway in Kenya as the country votes a new president, Members of Parliament, county governors and senators among others.
The historic vote is the first under a new constitution promulgated last year, but it comes amidst fears of ethnic violence.
Eight candidates are in the race to replace President Mwai Kibaki who is retiring after 10 years at the helm of East Africa’s biggest economy.
According to media reports, Nairobi reports a high voter turnout as voting starts. In Nairobi’s central business district, queues at some of the polling stations are more that a kilometre long. Some of the polling stations with long queues include Moi Primary School, Murang’a Road and River Bank. Some voters came as early as 3am and they now say they are determined to vote for change at whatever cost. Jane Odhiambo, an elderly woman who turned up at the polling station as early as 6:30am, said all she is looking for is peace no matter the outcome of the vote. Isaac Ngotho, Martin Gitau and John Gitau also called for peace.
At the time URN reporter visited the polling stations, there was no heavy police presence as earlier on promised by government in the wake of reports of planned violence similar to that in the December 2007 polls.
Police said on Sunday that people planned to dress in police uniforms and disrupt voting in the slum areas of Mathare and Kibera as well as in Kisumu. But Charles Owino, deputy police spokesperson, said the force is ready to deal with them. A total of 99,000 officers will be monitoring the polls across the country, with more than 7000 of them deployed in what police called trouble-spot areas.
At the Ugandan border post of Malaba, Kenyans fearing a repeat of political violence were on Sunday seen crossing into Uganda to seek refuge ahead of the general election. The December 2007 disputed polls plunged the country into its worst post-independence crisis, with 1300 people being killed in the violence. Another 650,000 were uprooted from their homes.
The Uganda police have observed that it has noticed an increase in the number of people crossing from Kenya into Uganda through the border. At the Malaba border point, a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to talk to the media told URN that daily they register between 40-60 Kenyans moving into Uganda but not returning to Kenya.
The source estimates that more than 10,000 Kenyans have quietly crossed and settled with friends and relatives on the Ugandan side of the border in the past two weeks. He said they are fleeing with their personal belongings.
Diana Nandawula, the Elgon Regional Police spokesperson that confirms that police is registering the influx of Kenyans crossing into Uganda daily through the border. She says at the border point of Rwakhakha and Swam in Manafwa and Bukwo districts respectively, the cross border movement continues to increase daily mainly with those from Kenya entering into Uganda.
Nandawula says they told police that they fear the political violence during or after Monday’s elections..
Margret Odomoch, a Kenyan businesswoman in Mbale town says her brother had requested her to go and bring his children who are currently studying in a school in Eldoret to come and stay with her in Uganda.
Odomoch says most Kenyans are anticipating violence after the March 4th general elections.
Micheal Richard Nataka, the secretary general Uganda Red Cross Society, says the agency is aware of the influx and that they are prepared to handle the situation.
Godfrey Odongo, the Malaba Regional Police spokesperson said government has so far identified Dryport in Malaba and Nyalakot in Tororo as resettlement areas for the Kenyan refugees. He said a team from the inter-ministerial committee will visit the area to assess the situation among other things.
Although the Kenyan Government has assured its citizens that adequate security measures are in place for the national elections, most Kenyans are wary.
Opinion polls continue to predict that there may not be an outright winner between the two top candidates Raila Odinga of Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) and Uhuru Kenyatta, the Jubilee candidate and could lead to a possible run-off.
But analysts say a possible run–off could create a highly emotive atmosphere that can rapidly degenerate into violence and a general breakdown of law and order.