Machete-wielding gangs linked to Mombasa attacks
04 March 2013, 13:25
Nairobi/Mombasa - At least 15 people were killed in attacks
by machete-wielding gangs on Monday as Kenyans queued to vote in a presidential
election they hope will rebuild the country's image after a disputed 2007 poll
unleashed weeks of tribal bloodshed.
A few hours before the 06:00 start of voting and with long
queues across the nation, at least nine security officers in Kenya's restive
coastal region were hacked to death, and six attackers were also killed, a
regional police chief Aggrey Adoli said.
The total toll had
earlier been put at 17. There were two separate attacks and senior police
officers blamed one of them on a separatist movement - which, if confirmed,
would suggest different motives to those that caused the post-2007 vote ethnic
killings and could limit their impact.
candidates have made impassioned appeals to avoid a repeat of the tribal
rampages that erupted five years ago when disputes over the poll result fuelled
clashes between tribal loyalists of rival candidates.
More than 1 200
people were killed, shattering Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most
stable democracies and bringing its economy to a standstill. As in 2007, the
race has come down to a high-stakes head-to-head between two candidates, this
time between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru
Both will depend
heavily on votes from tribal loyalists. One of the machete attacks on Monday
took place outside Mombasa and another in Kilifi about 50km to the north.
Senior police officers blamed the one near Mombasa on a separatist movement,
the Mombasa Republican Council, which had sought and failed to have the national
vote scrapped and a referendum on secession instead.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and it was
not possible to independently identify the attackers. Even before the violence,
many Kenyans were wary, particularly in places where it erupted last time.
"Our future is uncertain"
Shopkeepers have run down stocks and some people in mixed
tribal areas have returned to their homelands elsewhere. Bernard Otundo, 36,
queuing quietly in Nairobi in the early morning darkness, said he expected a
"Some of us have been here as early as 02:00. this
morning. I got here slightly after 03:00.," he said. "There have been
a lot of awareness campaigns against violence and I don't think it will happen
this time around, whatever the outcome."
Kenya's neighbours are watching nervously, after their
economies felt the shockwaves when violence five years ago shut down trade
routes running through east Africa's biggest economy. Some landlocked states
have stockpiled fuel and other materials.
The United States and
other Western countries are worried about the election in a country seen as a
vital ally in the regional battle against militant Islam. Adding to election
tensions, al-Shabaab militants, battling Kenyan peacekeeping troops in Somalia,
issued veiled threats before the vote.
A grenade attack on a
police post in Garissa, a city near Somalia, killed two civilians, inspector
general of police, David Kimaiyo, told reporters. He also said a bomb exploded
in the Mandera area, also near the border, causing no casualties. He did not
say who was behind the incidents and voters were undeterred, with long lines
forming across the nation.
In the early hours before voting, some Kenyans blew whistles
and trumpet-like "vuvuzelas" to wake up voters. But others remain
fearful that broader violence could flare.
"Our future is
uncertain but we long for peace and victory is on our side this time
round," said Odinga supporter 32-year-old Eunice Auma in Kisumu, a
flashpoint after the 2007 vote. "However, should our candidate [Odinga]
fail to clinch victory. I'm afraid violence will erupt," she said.
Mwai Kibaki, barred from seeking a third five-year term, made what he described
as a "passionate plea" for a peaceful vote. The candidates have
pledged to accept the result. But the close race has raised the sense of
Though well ahead of
six other contenders, polls suggest Odinga and Kenyatta will struggle to secure
enough ballots for an outright victory in the first round. That could set the
stage for a tense run-off tentatively set for April 11, while a narrow
first-round win could raise prospects for challenges.
The West is fretting
about the outcome because one leading candidate, Kenyatta, 51, has been
indicted by the International Criminal Court with his running mate, William
Ruto, for orchestrating the post-2007 vote violence.
He denies the
charges. But, if he wins, it would present a diplomatic dilemma for Western
nations that are big aid donors to Kenya. To try to prevent a repeat of the
contested outcome that sparked the violence after the December 2007 vote, a
new, broadly respected election commission is using more technology to prevent
fraud, speed up counting and increase transparency.
This could lead to a
swifter announcement of results, after delays in 2007 fuelled the crisis.
Provisional figures may emerge within hours of polls closing, although the
commission has seven days to declare the official outcome. Some voters still
grumbled about the slow process as lines snaked hundreds of metres from the polling
beginning to fall and faint on the queue," said Peter Gichuchi, waiting
for hours in the steamy heat of Mombasa. To build confidence, Kenya has passed
a new constitution since 2007, police chiefs have deployed extra forces to maintain
security and there is a more independent judiciary which commands greater
Officials have appealed to candidates to raise any
challenges in the courts and not on the streets. Even so, Odinga, 68, has
raised a warning flag, telling Reuters two days before the vote that the
commission had by "design or omission" failed to register all voters
in his strongholds, a charge the commission denies.
On Monday, he condemned the violence. Alongside the
presidential race, there are hotly contested elections for senators, county
governors, members of parliament, women representatives in county assemblies
and civic leaders.