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Kenya set for first presidential elections since post-election violence in 2007-2008

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Kenyan citizens and international observers are keenly reviewing activities of Kenyan political parties as presidential elections are just a month away. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has cleared eight presidential candidates to put their names on the March 4 ballot.

This year’s elections are surrounded by tension because the last presidential elections, held in 2007, produced the bloodiest nation-wide ethno-political crisis since Kenya’s independence in 1963. The post-election violence claimed the lives of 1,500 people, and authorities reported 3,000 cases of rape and 300,000 internally displaced people.

The two main contenders of that election, Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, claimed electoral fraud and contested the elections’ results. Factions formed along political but also distinctly tribal lines, with Kikuyus (the most populous tribe in Kenya) supporting Kibaki, who was from their tribe, and Luos and other smaller tribes rallying behind Odinga, a Luo.

It took two months for the Kenyan government, with the aid of international mediators such as former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, to facilitate a compromise between the two parties. The solution was a power-sharing agreement, which placed Kibaki in the seat of the presidency and Odinga in position as the prime minister.

Odinga is running again this year, but he has made it clear that he hopes for a peaceful electoral process. He said, “We hope to see fairness in the process. We do not want to see a repeat of what happened in the 2007/8 elections.”

Amnesty International, a human-rights activist group, has issued a public concern about the police force’s ability to contain elections-related violence. Justus Nyang’ay, the group’s Kenya director, explained that the 2007/8 election “was actually managed by the system of the police that we are still having today … Nothing has changed in terms of attitude, nothing has changed in terms of training especially for the police to be able to manage the use of force.”

Another source of tension in this year’s elections is the candidates themselves.The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued indictments in January 2012 against Kenyatta and Ruto of the Jubilee Coalition for their role in inciting post-election violence in 2007/8. Despite the outcry from foreign and domestic political observers, the pair announced that they would be competing in this year’s elections. They are expected to be the favored forerunners against Odinga and Musyoka of the Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy.

The race, according to pundits, is too close to call. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a government agency, has declared that the elections may draw out into an electoral process that may go on for “months.”

The March 4 election will surely be a test of Kenya’s civil society and its commitment to democratic processes.

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