Kenyans relocate, stockpile food ahead of acrimonious elections

Nervous Kenyans stockpiled food and water on Monday, while police prepared emergency first aid kits as families head to their ethnic heartlands on the eve of an election many fear could descend into violence.

Opposition leader, Raila Odinga, 72, who lost elections in 2007 and 2013, has already said President Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, can only win if his ruling Jubilee Party rigs the vote, a stance that increases the chances of a disputed result and unrest.

Opinion polls before Tuesday’s presidential election put the pair neck-and-neck.

Kenyans will also be voting for members of parliament and local representatives.

Kenya’s open-air markets and shops were packed with customers stocking up on last-minute essentials.

“We are fearful because before, there was rigging and that led to violence,” said orange seller, Christine Okoth.

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Wilson Njenga, a central government official overseeing the western region, said police had received disaster equipment, including first aid and gloves, but insisted it was all part of normal contingency planning.

“We don’t want to be caught flatfooted,” he told reporters.

On the campaign trail last week, Odinga told Reuters that Kenyatta could not win without cheating, a message that has fired up supporters in his backyard.

“If he doesn’t win, we are going to the streets and we’ll demonstrate,” said 28-year-old Kisumu potato seller, Ruth Achieng.

In 2007, Odinga’s call for street protests after problems with the vote count triggered a widespread campaign of ethnic violence in which 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced.

The violence also hammered East Africa’s biggest economy as regional trade grounded to a halt and tourists, the biggest source of foreign exchange, canceled holidays.

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Much of the killing a decade ago was in Kisumu, a city of a million people, most of them from Odinga’s Luo tribe, on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Deputy President William Ruto, who was charged along with Kenyatta by the International Criminal Court for organising the 2007 violence, tweeted a prayer for peaceful and transparent polls.

The ICC cases against both him and Kenyatta collapsed.

Going back to rural roots to vote is a long-standing Kenyan tradition, driven by a desire to catch up with friends and family as well as choose a suitable local political representative.

More recently, fear of unrest has become a factor.

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