French President Emmanuel Macron called for “truth and recognition” of the past yesterday, the second day of a visit to France’s former colony Algeria aimed at mending their often painful ties. The three-day trip follows months of tensions between Paris and the North African country, which earlier this year marked six decades of independence following 132 years of French rule. The visit also comes as European powers scramble to replace Russian energy imports - including with supplies from Algeria, Africa’s top gas exporter, which in turn is seeking a greater regional role. Macron had proclaimed a “new page” in relations on Thursday, after meeting President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and announcing the creation of a joint commission of historians to examine the colonial period and the devastating eight-year war that ended it, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. On Friday, Macron - the first French president to be born after Algerian independence in 1962 - dismissed what he said were calls to “choose between pride and repentance”. “I want the truth, and recognition, otherwise we’ll never move forward,” he said. On Friday morning Macron laid a wreath at a monument to those who “died for France”, in the mixed Christian-Jewish Saint Eugene cemetery which was a major burial ground for Europeans during colonial times. French soldiers sang the Marseillaise as cicadas buzzed in the background. Macron then visited the Jewish part of the cemetery, accompanied by prominent French Jews. Later in the day he was set to meet young Algerian entrepreneurs and discuss creating a French-Algerian incubator for digital start-ups, as part of a visit his office said focuses on the future. Tebboune on Thursday hailed “promising prospects for improving the special partnership” between the two countries. Ties between Paris and Algiers have seen repeated crises over the years. They had been particularly tense since last year when Macron questioned Algeria’s existence as a nation before the French occupation and accused the government of fomenting “hatred towards France”. Tebboune withdrew his country’s ambassador in response and banned French military aircraft from its airspace. Normal diplomatic relations have since resumed, along with overflights to French army bases in sub-Saharan Africa. Algeria is seeking a bigger role in the region, buoyed by surging energy prices that have filled the coffers of Africa’s top natural gas exporter following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron’s office has said gas is not a major feature of the visit -- although the head of French energy firm Engie, Catherine MacGregor, is in Macron’s 90-strong delegation. The president said that Algeria had helped Europe diversify its energy supplies by pumping more gas to Italy, which last month signed a deal to import billions more cubic metres via an undersea pipeline from the North African coast. Dismissing suggestions that Italy and France were “in competition” for Algerian gas, Macron welcomed the deal. “It’s good for Italy, it’s good for Europe and it improves the diversification of Europe,” he told reporters. He also dismissed suggestions that Italy and France were “in competition”, noting that France only relies on natural gas for a small part of its energy mix. The two leaders discussed how to bring stability to Libya, the Sahel region and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, according to Tebboune. Macron said Friday they had “very freely” discussed the human rights situation in Algeria with Tebboune, whom he said was “sensitive” to the matters. “These issues will be settled in full respect of Algerian sovereignty,” Macron said. He also urged young Algerians “not to be taken in” by the “immense manipulation” of social media networks by foreign powers including Russia and China. Macron was to also visit the iconic Grand Mosque of Algiers on Friday before heading to second city Oran for a stop focused on the arts.
The party that has ruled Angola continuously for nearly 50 years claimed victory yesterday in this week’s election, after the electoral commission put its vote at 51% in a poll marred by low turnout and opposition accusations of fraud. Fewer than half of Angola’s registered voters turned out for Wednesday’s election, which now looks certain to give President Joao Lourenco a second five-year term and extend the rule of the MPLA, which has governed the southern African oil producer since independence from Portugal in 1975. With more than 97% of the vote counted, the election commission said on Thursday the formerly Marxist People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola, or MPLA, was ahead with a 51% majority while its long-time opponent, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola, or UNITA, had 44.5%. “We have reached yet another outright majority. We have a calm majority to govern without any kind of problem and we will do it,” MPLA spokesman Rui Falcao told a news conference in the capital Luanda, a city that overwhelmingly voted for UNITA. Wednesday’s vote was Angola’s most closely fought yet, with unprecedented gains for the opposition led by Costa Junior, who have complained about the counting process. Analysts fear any dispute could ignite violence among a poor and frustrated youth who voted for Junior. The MPLA and UNITA, formerly both anti-colonial guerrilla groups, were on opposing sides of an on-off civil war after independence that lasted 27 years until 2002. But since the election, the streets have been mostly calm, aside from the odd protest in favour of broken up by tear gas and baton-wielding police. Civil society activists shared images on social media of dozens of young people marching, chanting and waving banners in protest against electoral fraud in the coastal town of Lobito on Friday. Reuters was unable to verify these images. If the results tally stays as it is then UNITA, for the first time, will have deprived the MPLA of the two-thirds majority needed to pass major reforms - the ruling party will instead need the backing of other lawmakers. But perhaps even more telling was how few voters showed up to choose between two political entities which have dominated Angolan politics since independence. Election data released on Friday showed that turnout was 45.65% of eligible voters. Lourenço, 68, has pledged to extend reforms in his second term, including privatising poorly-run state assets. But many Angolans still live in poverty despite his promises of a fairer distribution of wealth in Africa’s second biggest oil producer - a fact which benefited UNITA, popular with poor, jobless youths. UNITA has challenged provisional results, saying its initial count of 40% of polling stations showed it only a whisker behind the MPLA. UNITA said this was a small enough margin for it to overhaul the MPLA once all ballots in Luanda were tabulated. UNITA posted an image of Junior on its official Instagram account with the caption: “The President”. The MPLA posted a social media video of Lourenço thanking Angolans for the election outcome. As she watched the news on her phone, 47-year-old Antonia Neto, who works at a coffee shop at Luanda airport, said she was not happy with the results but there was a glimpse of hope. “There is a lot of discontent,” she said. “Maybe things will be better in the next election.”
The death toll has climbed to at least 43 from wildfires that have raged for days in northern Algeria, with numbers expected to rise further, the gendarmerie said Monday. Thirteen people have been arrested over suspicion of involvement in starting the fires, it added. "The latest toll of victims from the fires increased to 43," from 38 recorded two days earlier, the gendarmerie command said on state radio. Fires had swept through 14 wilayas, or administrative councils, in the north of the country, with most concentrated in the northeastern El Tarf region near the border with Tunisia. The gendarmerie, which operates under the defence ministry, added that they are still working on identifying the bodies of the victims. The death toll is expected to increase, it said, despite earlier reports that the fires had mostly been contained. Civil protection services said some 31 fires were put out in various parts of the North African country between Saturday and Sunday. More than 1,000 families were evacuated from various districts over the past few days, the civil defence's Colonel Boualem Boughlef said on Saturday. The fires, which have become a yearly fixture due to climate change, have devastated thousands of hectares of woodland in the mostly-desert country. Fires last year killed at least 90 people and seared 100,000 hectares of forest and farmland in the north.
Kenya's veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga filed a challenge to the results of this month's presidential election in the Supreme Court on Monday, his legal team said, the latest twist in a political clash that has gripped East Africa's powerhouse. "What we did this morning is to file the online copy," lawyer Daniel Maanzo told Kenyan television channel. "After today there will be four days for the other parties to reply." A source at the judiciary confirmed they had received a copy of the file. Last week the election commissioner declared Deputy President William Ruto had won the election by a slim margin, but four out of seven election commissioners dissented, saying the tallying of results had not been transparent. Last week Odinga said the results were a "travesty" but said he would settle the dispute in court and urged supporters to remain peaceful. This is Odinga's fifth stab at the presidency; he blamed several previous losses on rigging. Those disputes triggered violence that claimed more than 100 lives in 2017 and more than 1,200 lives in 2007. In 2017, the Supreme Court overturned the election result and ordered a re-run, which Odinga boycotted, saying he had no faith in the election commission. This time, Odinga is backed by the political establishment. President Uhuru Kenyatta endorsed Odinga's candidacy after falling out with Ruto after the last election. At stake is control of East Africa's wealthiest and most stable nation, home to regional headquarters for firms like General Electric, Google, and Uber. Kenya also provides peacekeepers for neighbouring Somalia and frequently hosts peace talks for other nations in the turbulent East Africa region. Petitioners must submit their complaint to the Supreme Court within seven days of the results being declared. The court next conducts a status conference with all parties to define the hearing schedule and ground rules. The constitution requires the nation's highest court to issue its decision within 14 days of the lawsuit being filed. Due to the tight schedule, it normally issues a summary judgment within 14 days, followed by more thorough decisions from each of the seven judges at a later date.
The European Union and United States said yesterday they were studying Iran’s response to a “final” draft agreement on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord with major powers the EU presented at talks in Vienna. The US had already said Monday that it was informing EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell of its response to the text he submitted on August 8. The possibility of a deal which might lead to the lifting of US sanctions on Iran’s oil output of 2.5mn barrels per day has already helped trigger a fall in prices on world markets, with US oil futures dropping nearly three percent to finish below $90 a barrel. A spokesperson for Borrell – who co-ordinated talks to bring Iran and the United States back into the deal – said the Iranian response was received late Monday and the EU was consulting with the United States and the other parties “on the way ahead”. “Everybody is studying the response and this is not the time for the moment to speculate on timing,” Borrell’s spokesperson Nabila Massrali later told a press briefing. A spokesperson for the US State Department said: “We have received Iran’s comments through the EU and are studying them. We are sharing our views with the EU.” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported earlier yesterday that “an agreement will be concluded if the United States reacts with realism and flexibility” to Iran’s response. Iran’s ISNA news agency cited an “informed source” as saying that Tehran “expects to receive the response of the other side in the next two days”. IRNA had said Friday that Iran might accept the “final” text drawn up by the European Union to save the deal, which aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. The deal has been moribund since the 2018 withdrawal of the United States under then president Donald Trump whose administration reimposed crippling sanctions. An unidentified Iranian diplomat said, according to IRNA, that “the European Union’s proposals are acceptable provided that they provide assurances to Iran on various points, related to sanctions and safeguards” as well as pending issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency. IRNA said the remaining differences centred on three issues. “The United States has expressed flexibility on two of them verbally but that needs to be incorporated into the text,” the news agency said without elaborating. “The third issue has to do with a guarantee that the deal will be lasting, and that depends on realism from the United States to reassure Iran.” None of the parties have spelt out in detail the points of contention that are still blocking a deal. Iran’s demand for an end to US blacklisting of its ideological army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as a “terrorist organisation” has been dropped from the discussions and will instead be handled after the deal, a senior EU official said earlier this month. The official said progress had also been made on Tehran’s call for guarantees that there will be no repeat of Washington reneging on the deal as it did under Trump in 2018. Tehran and Washington still have to agree on “issues related to sanctions lifting and a couple of nuclear questions that did not exist in March as the Iranians advanced their programme”, the EU official said. Iran also wants the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to end its long-running investigation into traces of enriched uranium found at sites not declared as having hosted nuclear activities. Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, as well as the United States indirectly, resumed talks on the nuclear accord earlier in August after a months-long hiatus. The EU-co-ordinated negotiations to revive the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March. The EU said last Tuesday it expected Tehran and Washington to “very quickly” respond to the “final” text aimed at salvaging the deal. Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that, after the lengthy negotiations, “what counts for us is verification” that sanctions are lifted in practice. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said it was up to Iran to make a final deal, rejecting reported demands that are outside the scope of the negotiations. “We do believe that what could be negotiated has been negotiated, and we’re prepared to affect a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA,” said Price.
Kenyan politician Raila Odinga rejected as a “travesty” the result of an Aug 9 presidential election he was declared to have lost to Deputy President William Ruto, adding that Kenya’s democracy faces a long legal crisis. His first comments on the result came after four of the seven election commissioners said they stood by their decision a day earlier to disown figures announced by electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati. The dramatic series of events has raised fears of violence like that seen after past disputed polls in East Africa’s richest country, including after the 2007 presidential vote when more than 1,200 people were killed in widespread clashes. Overnight, Odinga’s supporters battled police and burned tyres in the western city of Kisumu and the capital Nairobi’s huge Kibera slum, but quiet had returned to the streets by Tuesday morning. “Our view is that the figures announced by Chebukati are null and void and must be quashed by a court of law,” said Odinga, a veteran opposition leader and five-time presidential candidate who was backed this time by outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta. “What we saw yesterday was a travesty,” he told reporters, but appealed to his supporters to remain peaceful. “Let no one take the law into their own hands,” he said. Odinga broadcast the dissenting commission members’ news conference at his own venue before taking the stage. He said he was not yet prepared to announce specific legal steps. Odinga has until next Monday to file a challenge with the Supreme Court. Speaking for the four commissioners, electoral commission deputy chair Juliana Cherera said the results showing Ruto winning with 50.49% were erroneously aggregated and that Chebukati had disregarded concerns about the tally raised by other commissioners. Cherera said there were 142,000 votes that had not properly been accounted for, which might be enough to affect the outcome of the election given the narrow margin of 233,000 votes that separated Ruto and Odinga. Reuters was unable to reach Cherera or the election commission for comment on those figures. With memories still fresh of post-election bloodshed in 2007 and again in 2017, when more than 100 people were killed, Odinga has faced calls from home and abroad to commit to resolving any concerns in the courts. At a crowded restaurant in Odinga’s stronghold of Kisumu there was sporadic applause as supporters watched his statement rejecting the results and calling for peace. Outside the streets were quiet. “There is no need for protest because we have evidence that Ruto rigged this thing,” said Justin Omondi, a businessman and Odinga supporter. Even so, the protests overnight showed how quickly tensions could escalate. Many shops in Kisumu were shuttered on Tuesday, and roads were dotted with large stones and marks from burned tyres. Nancy Achieng arrived on Tuesday morning to find the wooden stall from which she sold foods at the side of the road in the Kondele neighbourhood destroyed. “I’ve lost the election and I’ve also lost my business,” said Achieng, who had been selling beans, chapati and roasted maize there for two years. Kenya’s Eurobonds slipped after the statements by Odinga and the commissioners but were still up on the day having recovered some of the sharp falls seen on Monday. Its 2024 dollar-denominated bond was up 1.86 cents on the dollar at 88.5 cents at 1400 GMT compared to over 92 cents late last week. Once in office, Ruto will confront an economic and social crisis as well as rising debt. Poor Kenyans already reeling from the impact of Covid-19 have been hit by global rises in food and fuel prices while a devastating drought in the north has left 4.1 million people dependent on food aid. The 55-year-old had made Kenya’s class divisions the centrepiece of his campaign to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “hustlers.” In his victory speech on Monday, Ruto vowed to be a president for all Kenyans. Outgoing president Kenyatta, who was not eligible to run after serving two five-year terms, fell out with his deputy Ruto and had thrown his support behind Odinga.
Kenya’s elections chief declared Deputy President William Ruto the winner of a tight presidential race yesterday but some senior election officials disowned the result, fuelling fears of violence like that seen after previous disputed polls. Hailing the electoral commission as “heroes”, Ruto said: “There is no looking back. We are looking to the future. We need all hands on deck to move forward.” The 55-year-old had made Kenya’s class divisions the centrepiece of his campaign to become Kenya’s fifth president, promising to reward low-income “hustlers” and pouring scorn on Kenya’s political dynasties. That was a barely veiled jab at his opponent Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation’s first vice president and president, respectively. Ruto, who heads the Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) Alliance, had appeared to be leading long-time opposition leader Odinga as Kenyans awaited final results of the election held nearly a week ago. Minutes before the chairman of the electoral commission Wafula Chebukati announced that Ruto had won the vote, his deputy Juliana Cherera had told media at a separate location that she and three other commissioners disowned the results. “We are not able to take ownership of the results that will be announced, because of the opaque nature of this last phase of the general election,” she said. The electoral commission has seven commissioners. Diplomats and international observers were whisked out of the tallying hall before Chebukati spoke, as scuffles broke out. Before announcing Ruto as the winner, Chebukati said two commissioners and the electoral commission’s Chief Executive had been injured and were being treated. Chebukati said Ruto had won 50.49% of the vote, against Odinga’s 48.5%. The winning candidate must get 50% of votes plus one. Odinga did not attend the announcement. Amid fears that vote-rigging allegations could lead to bloody scenes like those that followed presidential polls in 2007 and 2017, Cherera urged the parties to pursue any disputes through the courts. The electoral commission has introduced many checks and balances to try to prevent disputes like those that led to violence in which more than 1,200 people were killed following the 2007 election. In 2017, more than 100 people were killed after the Supreme Court quashed the initial result over irregularities in the electoral process. Kenya’s dollar-denominated government bonds fell by as much as 2.9 cents on the dollar, Tradeweb data showed. The next president will have to confront an economic and social crisis in East Africa’s most advanced economy, where poor Kenyans already reeling from the impact of Covid-19 have been hit by global rises in food and fuel prices. The worst drought for 40 years has devastated the country’s north, leaving 4.1mn people dependent on food aid, while its debt levels have soared. Kenyatta, who has served his two-term limit as president, fell out with Ruto after the last election and this time endorsed Odinga, making his fifth stab at the presidency. In Kisumu, an Odinga stronghold in the west of the country, the reaction was immediate. Several plumes of black smoke rose around a roundabout as people burned piles of tires. Amid shouts of “We need Raila now!”, “Chebukati must go!” and “No Raila, no peace!”, motorcycle drivers honked their horns and people blew into vuvuzelas and whistles. By contrast, the mood in Eldoret - Ruto’s home turf - was ecstatic. “We are very happy. I believe in the leader who was selected, I believe in the IEBC (the electoral commission),” said 25-year-old Eldoret resident Kenneth Kibitok. “He is about the bottom up. People from down there will be up here,” said Kibitok, who had spent all day on a stretch of Eldoret sidewalk popular with Kenyans who like discussing politics.
* With most votes counted, Deputy Pres on about 52%: media * Electoral Commission seen announcing winner soon * Delays since Tuesday's vote have fed anxiety Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto led a tight presidential race against opposition leader Raila Odinga, official results reported by media showed on Monday, as an announcement from electoral authorities on the winner appeared imminent. Slow progress by the electoral commission in tallying Tuesday's vote have fed anxiety in East Africa's wealthiest country, which has a recent history of violence following disputed elections. Riot police were deployed at the national tallying centre at the weekend after scuffling between members of rival parties over verification procedures. With media on Monday reporting more than three quarters of votes counted, only two desks on a tallying floor that has been a hive of activity since the verification process started were occupied by electoral commission staff and party agents, out of more than 12 before. That suggested the count could be coming to a close. The commission has not said when the winner will be declared, but the law requires it to announce results within seven days of a presidential election. The winning candidate must get 50% of votes plus one. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has served his two-term limit, fell out with Ruto after the last election and has this time endorsed Odinga for president. In its latest announcement on Saturday of officially verified results with a little more than a quarter of votes counted, the commission put Odinga in the lead with 54% and Ruto on 45%. But in official verified results reported by the independent and privately owned Nation Media Group, with 253 constituencies counted out of a total of 291, Ruto had 51% of the vote and Odinga 48%. The Standard Group - likewise independent and privately owned - reported Ruto ahead, again with 51% of the vote against Odinga's 48% and also with 253 constituencies tallied. A Reuters tally of 266 out of 291 preliminary constituency-level results at 0900 GMT on Monday showed Ruto on 52% and Odinga at 48%. Two minor candidates shared less than a percent between them. Reuters did not include 20 forms in the count because they lacked signatures, totals, were illegible or had other problems. The preliminary tally is based on forms that are subject to revision if any discrepancies are discovered during the official verification process. The many checks and balances are designed to try to prevent the kind of allegations of rigging that provoked violence after the 2007 vote, when more than 1,200 people were killed. In 2017, after the Supreme Court overturned the result over irregularities in the electoral process, more than 100 were killed. Crispinus Kokonya in Eldoret, a region where Ruto has largest support base, said the outcome was still unclear. "So we are now waiting upon Chebukati... what he says we will follow," he said referring to the electoral commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati. Others said the wait was hurting business. "We are losing money - it's causing a lot of anxiety and anger," said Alphonce Otieno Odhiambo a farmer and a motor bike taxi driver in Kisumu, an Odinga stronghold.
Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has edged ahead in a tight presidential race, according to official results reported by Kenyan media yesterday, as more riot police were deployed inside the national election tallying centre after scuffles and accusations by party agents. The fracas underscored fraying tempers and high tensions within the national counting hall as the country waits for official results from last Tuesday’s election. There were wry digs online over the melee from citizens pointing out that the rest of the nation is waiting patiently. In the presidential race, official verified results reported by the Nation media group showed Ruto taking 51% of the vote, ahead of left-leaning opposition leader Raila Odinga who had 48%. Confusion over vote tallying in the media and the slow pace of progress by the electoral commission have fed anxiety in Kenya, which is East Africa’s richest and most stable nation but which has a history of violence following disputed elections. Reuters was unable to get access to the official running vote tally for the presidential race on Sunday. A live feed displaying the results at the national tallying centre had disappeared hours earlier. When asked about the tally, a spokeswoman for the commission referred Reuters to the live feed. Other electoral officials said they were unable to provide the information. Officially verified results on Saturday, with a little more than a quarter of votes counted, put Odinga in the lead with 54% of the vote while Ruto had 45%. The winner must get 50% of votes plus one. The commission has seven days from the vote to declare the winners. A Reuters tally of 263 out of 291 preliminary constituency-level results at 1800 GMT yesterday showed Ruto in the lead with just under 52% and Odinga at 47.5%. Two minor candidates shared less than a percent between them. Reuters did not include 19 forms in the count because they lacked signatures, totals, were illegible or had other problems. The preliminary tally is based on forms that are subject to revision if any discrepancies are discovered during the official verification process. The many checks and balances are designed to try to prevent the kind of allegations of rigging that provoked violence in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed, and in 2017, when more than 100 people were killed. Odinga and Ruto are vying to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has served his two-term limit. Kenyatta fell out with Ruto after the last election and has endorsed Odinga for president. Kenyatta leaves power having laden Kenya with debt for expensive infrastructure projects and without having tackled the endemic corruption that has hollowed out all levels of government. The next president will also take on rapidly rising food and fuel costs. Ruto’s strong showing reflects widespread discontent with Kenyatta’s legacy — even in parts of the country where the president has previously swept the vote. Large numbers of Kenyans also did not vote, saying neither candidate inspired them. Yesterday, Ruto’s party member Johnson Sakaja won the governorship of the capital Nairobi, the wealthiest and most populous of the 47 counties. As the tight race continued, party agents have grown increasingly agitated at the tallying centre, known as Bomas. Late on Saturday, Raila Odinga’s chief agent Saitabao ole Kanchory grabbed a microphone and announced “Bomas of Kenya is a scene of crime,” before officials switched off his microphone. Party agents scuffled with each other, with police and with election officials, at one point trying to drag one official outside. The scenes, broadcast on national news, were met with bemusement by Kenyans, who urged their leaders to grow up. “The reckless behaviour at Bomas by so-called leaders, which can fast ignite the country, must be called out,” tweeted Alamin Kimathi, a human rights activist. “Let the drama end. Let the process continue.”
Kenya’s one-time opposition leader Raila Odinga is slightly ahead in the presidential race, partial official results showed yesterday, as the country remains on tenterhooks for the final election outcome. Odinga has 52.54% of the vote against 46.76% for Deputy President William Ruto, according to early afternoon figures from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission based on results from about 30% of polling stations. The election is being closely watched as a test of stability in Kenya, which is one of the continent’s most dynamic democracies but has seen past votes marred by rigging and deadly violence. As the wait for results dragged on, the election commission on Friday acknowledged that the tallying process was moving too slowly and appealed for the nation to be patient. Odinga, 77, is making his fifth stab at the top job - this time with the support of his longtime foe, the outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has already served two terms and cannot run again. Ruto, 55, has been deputy president for almost a decade but was left out in the cold after a pact between Odinga and Kenyatta in 2018 that dramatically shifted political allegiances. Although the campaign was mired in acrimony and widespread disinformation, polling day passed off largely peacefully with only a few incidents reported of electronic ID machines malfunctioning and delays in opening some polling stations. Turnout was about 65%, much lower than the 78% recorded in 2017, a reflection, some observers say, of the disenchantment with the political elite, particularly among young people. The state of the economy was a key issue during the campaign, with Kenyans struggling to make ends meet as global prices for essential goods such as food and fuel soar. The winner of the presidential race needs to secure 50% plus one vote and at least a quarter of the votes in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. If not, the country will be forced to hold a runoff within 30 days of the original vote. Both frontrunners have pledged to ensure calm after the outcome is known, with Kenyans still haunted by the deadly violence that followed the 2017 and 2007 polls. But observers say that with the race so close, an appeal to the Supreme Court by the losing candidate is almost certain, meaning it could be many weeks before a new president takes office. Kenyans had been left confused when television stations which have been providing rolling coverage of the election, suddenly stopped broadcasting provisional results late Thursday after various channels showed different outcomes. Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo insisted there was nothing underhand about the stoppage or the discrepancies in numbers. “No one has asked anyone to stop the tallying and projection of the results,” he said Friday. “We are liaising with media houses to align the reporting.” In a bid to be transparent, the IEBC - which faced stinging criticism over its management of the annulled August 2017 poll - has been uploading documents to its website showing results from each polling station. But Omwoyo said various media groups had different capacities and had been “tallying based on their own parameters”. Social media has been littered with disinformation about the results, with rights campaigners and civil society groups accusing both candidates’ camps of sharing misleading posts. IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati on Friday accused political party agents of delaying the tallying process by haranguing election workers with unnecessary questions. “We have observed that we are not moving as fast as we should. This exercise needs to be concluded as soon as possible,” Chebukati said. IEBC chief executive Marjan Hussein Marjan also Friday denied that the commission’s systems and results portal had been hacked, insisting “the mechanisms we have put in place are foolproof”. Meanwhile, the education ministry announced that schools would remain shut until Thursday, two days after the deadline for results to be announced. Evelyn Oduor, a 35-year-old tailor in Odinga’s lakeside stronghold of Kisumu, said she was simply eager for the election to be over and for a return to normal life. “Right now we’re very tired. We’re not going to work. Our students are in the house,” she said.
Without providing any proof, the secretary-general of Kenya’s governing party has said there was election rigging, fuelling public anxiety yesterday as media outlets significantly slowed down their unofficial tallies from Tuesday’s tight vote. Only the electoral commission is authorised to declare a winner, but the tallies done by media were seen as a bulwark against the kind of rigging allegations that have previously sparked violence. While Kenya is East Africa’s richest and most stable nation it also has a history of violent elections disputes. More than 1,200 people were killed after the 2007 elections and more than 100 after the 2017 elections. The race is to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who must step down after serving the maximum two five-year terms. Leading contenders are former political prisoner and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto. Kenyatta has fallen out with Ruto and endorsed Odinga. Media tallies, which had nearly stopped by yesterday morning, showed Odinga and Ruto neck and neck, just under the 50% mark they needed to win. Less than a percent was divided between two other marginal candidates. If no candidate wins more than 50% plus one vote, the two frontrunners will have a run-off. Yesterday, the election commission chairman Wafula Chebukati blamed party agents for the slow pace of the official count, which has not yet topped 1.5% of the vote. “Agents in this exercise cannot proceed in the manner which we are proceeding, as if we are doing a forensic audit,” he told a news briefing at the tallying centre. “We are not moving as fast as we should. This exercise needs to be concluded as soon as possible.” Late on Thursday, the chairman of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party, which has backed Odinga, issued a statement alleging “massive subtle rigging” and claiming the “electoral process was highly compromised” after Ruto’s new party made a strong showing in an area traditionally dominated by Kenyatta. The statement alleged voter intimidation, bribery, illegal displaying of campaign materials in polling station, mishandling of party agents and incorrect use of election materials. It provided no evidence and did not explain why the allegations had been made so late. Reuters could not reach party officials for comment. International observers have generally praised the proceedings in the elections. Previous elections have largely been determined by ethnic voting blocs. But Ruto has sought to make this election about economics, portraying himself as a self-made “hustler” in contrast to political “dynasties”. Odinga and Kenyatta are the sons of Kenya’s first vice president and president, respectively. Ian Dan, a parcel service attendant in the main bus park in Odinga’s stronghold of Kisumu, said business was very slow. “We are in darkness and this is not good for us. People are anxious and need to have a clear picture,” he said. “There are allegations of rigging flying in social media, but many people are waiting to hear from Raila Odinga or William Ruto. Their word will influence people’s reaction.” The electoral commission is the only body legally authorised to declare a winner. It initially uploaded images of results forms from more than 46,000 polling stations, but had not tallied them. Instead, media houses employed teams to download forms and enter them into a database. More than 99.7% of polling station results are in but thousands have not been counted by the media. The abrupt slowdown started when around 80% of the vote had been counted. Prominent Kenyan columnist and cartoonist Patrick Gathara criticised the slowdown, tweeting: “So once again KE media have chickened out and have stopped updating their counts? It was too good to last.” But executives from Citizen and Nation media groups said exhausted staff needed a rest. “Now we have about a third of people working that we started with and we intend to pick up pace in the next few hours when the rest of the team come back,” said Linus Kaikai, director of strategy at Citizen. Stephen Gitagama, the CEO of Nation Media group, said his staff also needed a rest and that they focused on quality control. He referred Reuters to the election commission, known as the IEBC. “IEBC bears the responsibility of providing the results, not the media,” he said. Yesterday morning, the election commission displayed an official count of presidential results on a board at the main tallying centre. It had counted 1.5% of the vote. The commission has seven days to announce a winner. At 1100 GMT, a Reuters tally of 199 out of 291 constituency-level results had Ruto leading by 52.44% and Odinga at 46.89%. Fifteen constituency-level results images were unreadable or lacked totals.
A decade after her 30-year-old brother was killed when South African police opened fire on miners striking for better wages, Nolufefe Noki is still no closer to obtaining justice. Mgcineni ‘Mambush’ Noki had become the face of the 2012 protests at the Marikana platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg, known as the “the man with the green blanket”. Leading from the front, he addressed thousands of fellow mineworkers with a commanding raised fist, a green blanket wrapped around his shoulders until the day he was struck dead. The shootings, which killed 34 people in total and wounded 78 more on August 16, 2012, were the bloodiest police crackdown since the end of apartheid in 1994. But Noki’s sister says she is still waiting for answers as to what exactly occurred that day. “We don’t know what happened,” the 42-year-old said, speaking inside the family home in Mqanduli, a village in the south of the country. All she knows is that the police arrived to break up the wildcat protest on a hill, and then “many people were killed”. Television footage that day of police opening fire on protestors, raising a crest of dust at the foot of the hill, shocked South Africa and the world. The violence evoked memories of apartheid-era police killings. An official inquiry blamed the deaths and injuries on police “tactics”, recommending that those responsible be investigated and prosecuted. But a decade on, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, a police watchdog, said the case was “still under investigation”. The country’s solicitor general, Fhedzisani Pandelani, said only around half of all claims made for compensation have been paid out. “It’s regrettable that we sit here and discuss things that happened 10 years ago,” he said. For survivors and the families of victims, the memories are still agonisingly fresh. When Noki’s remains were returned home, 1,000km away in the south of the country, his sister says she was unable to properly say goodbye. “I was told I couldn’t see him, because he was too badly hurt,” she said in Mqanduli, where green hills stretch as far as the eye can see. “I still have a lot of pain.” Many of the workers in South Africa’s platinum mines come from remote parts of the country such as Mqanduli, only returning home for the Christmas holidays. Noki was buried on a nearby hill, where his grave is now overgrown with grass. But his family is still too traumatised to pay their respects at the burial site. Fellow striker Mzoxolo Magidiwana, 34, was shot nine times during the same police crackdown, but survived. He secured a pay increase, and today lives in a single room provided by his employer in a township near the hill where the miners were shot. “The government doesn’t care about us,” Magidiwana said. “It’s 10 years now, our lives would have long changed for the better. Instead, our lives have become worse.” Tensions had been brewing for days before the shootings at the Marikana mine. Strikers were unhappy with their representation, as two separate unions vied to take centre stage, and workers who didn’t join the strike had been harassed. Ten people had already died since the start of the protest. Aisha Fundi says striking workers killed her husband Hassan, a mine security guard. As part of reparations, the 49-year-old mother of two boys was offered a job at the mine, but she says that isn’t enough. “Me and my kids want to see justice,” she said. She says she still does not know who killed her husband, and fears that they could be working alongside her. She is also yet to receive any compensation. President Cyril Ramaphosa, a non-executive director of the mine at the time, was exonerated of any wrongdoing in the killings, after he called for a crackdown on the strikers. Miners, activists and opposition groups want Ramaphosa to apologise. On May Day this year, he was forced to abandon a rally speech and bundled into an armoured police vehicle, after miners shouted him down in Rustenburg, a large town near Marikana. Sociology researcher Trevor Ngwane said victims and their relatives lacked closure. “There hasn’t been justice,” he said. The community in “Marikana is still traumatised”. Onkgopotse J J Tabane, a political commentator, at a memorial speech this week said the Marikana incident remained “an open grave”. “Where is the accountability?” he asked.
Kenya’s election commission yesterday cancelled four local polls and announced the arrest of six officials on the eve of a high-stakes presidential vote, raising alarm after a campaign dominated by rigging fears. Millions of Kenyans will vote for a new leader today, in a tight race between Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition politician now backed by the ruling party. Voters will also choose governors, senators, lawmakers, woman representatives and county officials. Despite mudslinging and fake news, campaigning has so far been largely peaceful, a relief in a country where past election-related unrest still casts a shadow. But Monday’s announcement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) will do little to ease worries over rigging – presidential poll outcomes have been routinely disputed over the last two decades, and the discord often spills over into violence. IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati said gubernatorial polls in the counties of Mombasa and Kakamega as well as elections for MP in the Kachiliba and Pokot South constituencies would be postponed until further notice, due to erroneous ballot papers. The cancellations could affect turnout if citizens decide not to show up at polling stations to cast their ballot for the five other positions still in the running. Together, Mombasa and Kakamega account for some 1.5mn registered voters. Chebukati also said six IEBC officials were arrested for allegedly meeting with candidates with a view to influencing election outcomes. “The commission... will not hesitate to take stern action against any official found to be in breach of the code of conduct and election offences act,” he said, dismissing rigging fears and urging citizens to vote. “Let us collectively rise up and show the world that Kenya is a vibrant democracy.” The unsettling developments followed a pledge on Sunday by both the presidential frontrunners to respect the result and not trigger a repeat of the violence that followed polls in 2007 and 2017. “Each Kenyan wherever you are, whatever you do, be a peacemaker. It is a qualification to become a son and a daughter of God,” Ruto said. The 55-year-old has previously said he will pursue any dispute at the Supreme Court, which in 2017 ordered a rerun of the presidential vote, citing irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the electoral commission. Odinga – who is making his fifth run at the presidency – also urged calm, saying: “We want a peaceful country, that no life should be lost at the hands of no other person.” In an editorial published Monday, the Daily Nation newspaper welcomed the “good signals” from the two men, saying it would “help to ease tension”. In recent days, analysts have suggested that Odinga, 77, will likely scrape past Ruto, with Oxford Economics highlighting the fact that he is backed by “several influential political leaders”, including President Uhuru Kenyatta. “A final poll giving him (Odinga) an 8% lead will encourage undecided swing voters to pick the winning side,” Ben Hunter, Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, said in a note. Ruto was long expected to succeed Kenyatta, but was sidelined after his boss – who cannot run again – shook hands with longtime foe Odinga in a 2018 pact that stunned the nation. Since then, Ruto, a wealthy businessman with a rags-to-riches background, has vowed to overthrow the “dynasties” running Kenya – a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families, which gave the country its first president and vice president. Ruto has presented himself as “hustler in chief”, claiming to speak for the downtrodden and hoping to strike a chord in a country where three in 10 people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. In his final campaign speech on Saturday, Odinga vowed to continue with the “handshake doctrine.” “I will shake the hand if I win, and I will shake the hand if I don’t. And I will do it because I love Kenya,” he said. The election is being closely watched by the international community, which views Kenya as a stable partner in a region roiled by conflict. About 22.1mn people – out of a population of around 50mn – are registered to vote, with polling stations open from 6am to 5pm.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken kicked off a three-nation African trip yesterday, paying tribute to the Soweto Uprising, a student protest whose tragic ending galvanised the world against the apartheid regime. His visit comes as Washington scales up diplomacy to counter Russian influence on the continent and follows hot on the heels of an extensive tour of Africa by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. For his first stop, the US top diplomat chose South Africa, a leader in the developing world, which has remained neutral in the Ukraine war, refusing to join Western calls to condemn Moscow, which had opposed apartheid before the end of white minority rule in 1994. Blinken laid a wreath and toured the Hector Pieterson Museum, built in memory of students killed in a 1976 protest which became one of the watersheds in the anti-apartheid movement. It was named after the 12-year-old boy who was the first to be shot and killed by police on June 16, 1976. During the afternoon visit to Soweto township, the heartland of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, Blinken was shown around the museum by Pieterson’s sister Antoinette Sithole. “What’s so extraordinary about this museum is that it’s living history because it’s inspiring people to see the power that young people can have to make change,” Blinken said after the tour. He made reference to the iconic black-and-white picture of a dying Hector Pieterson being carried away by a teary fellow student after security forces opened fire on the young protesters. The photograph “probably did as much to open hearts and open minds and raise consciousness about apartheid and about the struggle for equality and freedom as anything”. Pieterson’s story “really resonates because we have our own struggle for freedom and equality in the United States”, Blinken said. More than 170 were gunned down when thousands of black students protested at being forced to study in Afrikaans, the language of the white-minority regime. Blinken will hold talks today with South African counterpart Naledi Pandor and also make a policy announcement on the US government’s new Africa strategy, Pretoria said in a statement. The two will “discuss ongoing and recent developments relating to the global geopolitical situation”, it said. The US State Department last month said African countries were “geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day”. Vulnerable countries in Africa and elsewhere in the world have been hard hit by the fallout from the Ukraine war that has sent prices of fuel and food soaring. Powerhouse South Africa belongs to a group of emerging economies called Brics. In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – to co-operate in the face of “selfish actions” from the West. For Fonteh Akum, head of the Pretoria-based think tank Institute for Security Studies, Blinken’s visit will help the US understand the southern African country’s position. It will also aim “to bring South Africa further into the Western fold”, Akum told AFP. The US wants to “engage differently and ... move towards understanding Africa’s agency in international relations and therefore the growth in diplomatic engagements”, the expert said. Blinken’s trip follows a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to Benin, Cameroon and Guinea-Bissau late last month. Lavrov’s Africa trip took him to Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda. That Blinken is coming after Lavrov and Macron, “basically shows that Africa is entering a phase within which there is another bout of great power competition over the continent”, said Akum. It is Blinken’s second trip to Africa since his appointment early last year. The top US diplomat will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) later this week, with the aim of boosting support for sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country as it battles to turn the page on decades of conflict. Blinken’s tour will then wind up in Rwanda, which has seen a flare-up in tensions with DR Congo after it accused Rwanda of backing M23 rebels, a charge Kigali denies.
The campaign for Kenya’s presidential election has officially closed but the relentless – and dangerous – flow of disinformation continues online, as keyboard warriors battle to discredit rivals by sharing fake rigging claims, experts say. Campaigners for the frontrunners, Deputy President William Ruto and veteran politician Raila Odinga, are circulating dozens of posts claiming that their opponent is engaged in “vote rigging plots”, said Benedict Manzin, a sub-Saharan Africa analyst at UK-based intelligence firm Sibylline. “We are increasingly seeing false information which seeks to delegitimise the results of the election with widespread claims that the opposing side would only win through fraud and that they are attempting to steal the election,” Manzin told AFP. In one case, a strategist for Ruto’s campaign accused Odinga’s team of trying to rig tomorrow’s poll because the 77-year-old urged the election commission to use a manual voter register instead of a digital one. Meanwhile, a pro-Odinga blogger tweeted that Ruto was attempting to steal the election, sharing a link to an unrelated video – since taken down – of a politician discussing an old scandal. Mary Blankenship, a disinformation researcher at the University of Nevada, said the circulation of baseless fraud claims could cause real harm, especially in a country where past polls have been followed by an eruption of violence. “It creates an avenue for either of the candidates to discredit the outcome of the polls, which could lead to unrest,” she told AFP. Blankenship likened the situation to the 2020 US election when former president Donald Trump’s fraud claims culminated in an attack on the US Capitol by his supporters. More than 1,100 people died in politically motivated inter-ethnic clashes in Kenya following the bitterly disputed 2007 elections. A decade later, dozens died during a police crackdown on protests after the 2017 presidential poll which was later annulled by the Supreme Court due to “irregularities and illegalities”. Fact-checking organisations – including AFP Fact Check – have debunked hundreds of false and misleading claims about the Kenyan elections. Both sides have sought to cast aspersions on their opponent’s educational qualifications, claiming that Odinga lied about studying engineering in Germany and that Ruto falsified his university grades. These claims were debunked by fact-checkers but trended on Twitter for days. Mainstream media organisations have also been dragged into the fray, with impostor websites and social media pages mimicking genuine outlets used to spread falsehoods about candidates. “We are constantly having to issue alerts to say this did not originate from our company,” said Citizen TV editor Waihiga Mwaura. Fraudulent opinion polls have emerged as a major trend, with campaigners falsely attributing them to legitimate sources such as survey company GeoPoll and The Daily Nation newspaper. There are “efforts to make different leaders look even more popular than they are, to create the impression they are winning the elections”, said Nic Cheeseman, a political scientist with the University of Birmingham. “The main misinformation and disinformation we have seen in 2022 is quite similar to the 2017 elections,” Cheeseman told AFP, referring to “negative ethnic stereotyping” among other tactics. An undercover expose by UK media revealed that British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica used the personal data of millions of Facebook users to target political ads – including some that preyed on ethnic fears – during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successful campaigns in 2013 and 2017. Kenyan civil society groups and a state watchdog have warned that the barrage of disinformation poses a risk to democracy and called on social media platforms to act. The authorities have also set up a special division to handle “election and hate speech-related offences”. “Part of what this misinformation and disinformation does is that it plays into the stereotypes, preconceived notions and the emotional aspect of voters,” said Mark Kaigwa, team leader at StopReflectVerify.com, a Kenyan organisation analysing disinformation. “It is a way to energise people and rally them emotionally.” While platforms like Facebook and TikTok say they are committed to rooting out disinformation and hate speech, observers are sceptical, not least because election influencers rely on codewords to amplify their messages. “There is a lot of coded language ... being used to mask or ensure that these social media platforms don’t identify such type of hate speech,” said Allan Cheboi, a senior investigator at Code for Africa, a data journalism and civic technology initiative. For instance, some campaigners use the Swahili word madoadoa (“blemish”) to attack members of various communities in Kenya, Cheboi told AFP. “Incitement starts online then results (in) violence in offline spaces,” he said.
Flanked by cheering crowds and blaring vuvuzela horns, the frontrunners in Kenya’s presidential election vowed yesterday to revive the country’s troubled economy as they made their final push for votes ahead of the August 9 polls. Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader now backed by the ruling party, are fighting for the chance to lead the East African powerhouse as it grapples with a cost-of-living crisis. Previous polls have been marred by violence – including inter-ethnic clashes – and continue to cast a dark shadow over the country, where 22.1mn voters will now choose the next president, as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, woman representatives and county officials. The battle for votes has been dominated by mud-slinging, tit-for-tat claims of rigging and a freebie bonanza for supporters, who have been showered with umbrellas, groceries and cash for attending rallies. After months of frenetic campaigning across the vast country, the two candidates staged their final offensive in the capital Nairobi, addressing thousands of flag-waving supporters. A former political prisoner who is making his fifth run for president, Odinga promised to transform the multi-ethnic country into a land “of hope and opportunity, a Kenya not for individual tribes, but one big Kenya tribe”. Ruto, who has cast himself as “hustler-in-chief”, said his government would tackle inflation and create jobs, vowing: “We are going to have a nation that leaves no Kenyan behind.” With lawyers David Mwaura and George Wajackoyah – an eccentric former spy – also in the fray, speculation has mounted that Kenya may see its first presidential run-off, sparking worries that a disputed result could lead to street violence. A wealthy businessman with a rags-to-riches background and a shadowy reputation, Ruto, 55, was long expected to be President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor, but was sidelined when his boss – who cannot run again – joined hands with longtime rival Odinga in 2018. Kenyatta’s endorsement has given Odinga, 77, access to the ruling Jubilee party’s powerful election machinery, but has also dealt a blow to his anti-establishment credentials. Nevertheless, some analysts believe Odinga will emerge the winner in a close race, with Oxford Economics highlighting the fact that “several influential political leaders”, including Kenyatta, back him. Odinga has made the fight against corruption a key plank of his campaign, pointing out that Ruto’s running mate is fighting a graft case. Ruto meanwhile has taken aim at the “dynasties” running Kenya – a reference to the politically powerful Kenyatta and Odinga families – hoping to strike a chord in a nation where three in 10 people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. Evance Odawo, a 23-year-old tailor attending Odinga’s rally, told AFP: “We expect from the next president that the economy improves and the living standards, too.” Grace Kawira, an unemployed mother-of-two, was waiting for Ruto’s arrival at a separate venue. “There’s no work. We don’t have a job. We are the hustlers,” she told AFP, echoing concerns shared by many across Kenya. “We are just surviving.” The election will open a new chapter in Kenya’s history, with neither candidate belonging to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, which has produced three of the country’s four presidents. Analysts say that the economic crisis will likely compete with tribal allegiances as a key factor driving voter behaviour. With large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered politically motivated communal violence around election time, notably after a disputed poll in 2007 when more than 1,100 people died, scarring the nation’s psyche. The run-up to this year’s poll has been largely calm, with the police planning to deploy 150,000 officers on election day to ensure security and the international community calling for a peaceful vote. Since 2002, every Kenyan presidential poll has been followed by a dispute over results. The Supreme Court annulled the 2017 election due to widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The IEBC, which is under pressure to ensure a free and fair poll, insists it has taken all necessary precautions to prevent fraud, with Kenyans hoping for a peaceful vote. “I want (the politicians) to accept the election so the country can continue in peace,” said 32-year-old Kawira.
Since she was a little girl sitting in front of the radio listening to leaders such as Nobel Prize-winning Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai and former US first lady Michelle Obama, Anita Soina has known she was going to try to change the world. She just didn’t know she would start so soon. Frustrated by Kenya’s slow progress on cutting climate-heating carbon emissions and curbing deforestation, the 22-year-old activist is vying for a parliamentary seat in the country’s general elections on August 9. A win would make her the youngest member of parliament (MP) in Kenya’s history. “After completing my university education and realising I am qualified for the member of parliament position, I decided to go for it. It’s the challenges that are pushing me not to wait any longer,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. From school strikes to street protests, young people around the world are pushing leaders to do more to transition to clean energy, protect the environment and support those hardest hit by climate impacts. But Soina, who is running for the Kajiado North seat in Kajiado County, just south of the capital Nairobi, believes change isn’t happening fast enough with activists working outside politics. “I realised that fighting from outside may not really be the answer,” she said during a campaign meeting in the town of Ngong with drivers of “boda boda” motorcycle taxis, who make up a powerful voting bloc in Kenya. “Having a voice from inside parliament ... makes it easier, because I would be in a position to sponsor and pass bills and speak to these issues from within the corridors of power,” she said. A member of the indigenous Maasai community, Soina has spoken out about environmental issues since she was 17, carving a space for herself as a fervent climate action advocate. She grew up witnessing the consequences of rising temperatures linked to climate change. “I’ve seen the Mara River in different stages, from when it was an all-season river to now, when it’s turning into a seasonal river that sometimes has no water at all,” she said. By high school, she was teaching herself about climate issues and realised the Maasai, whose livelihoods rely on livestock, were being hit especially hard by the cycles of drought gripping Kenya. Since then, she has published a book, ‘The Green War’, highlighting environmental injustices around the world, and presented a TED Talk on the topic. She also founded an activist group called the Spice Warriors, who aim to disrupt climate denial. Her high-profile fight to get Kenya’s leaders to ramp up their climate action has also pushed her into the headlines, including stories about her dating life, and subjected her to attacks on social media. But that intense attention could be an advantage when Soina goes up against 16 other candidates for the seat next week as a representative of the Green Thinking Action Party, said the party’s founder, sustainable development advocate Isaac Kalua. Kalua said he started the party when he realised that, after three decades of protests, public talks and newspaper op-eds, his efforts had done little to speed up Kenya’s progress on protecting people from climate change. “(Soina) has made great strides at international levels, talking about issues that are affecting common people. She is someone who can address the issues of the environment in the space where it matters, not only from the outside,” he said. In a survey about the concerns of Africa’s young people published last year Foundation, an African charity, 70% of 18- to 24-year-olds said they were concerned about climate change, but less than half were satisfied with how their leaders were tackling it. On the world’s youngest continent - nearly 60% of Africa’s 1.25bn people are aged 25 or younger - Soina says youth don’t see enough urgency in the way their governments are dealing with the climate crisis, which will affect young people most of their lives. “In Kenya, I can say we have zero voices for climate from within parliament,” she said. “As long as there is such a voice in parliament - even if it’s not myself - that’s going to bring change faster than if we had no voice at all.” Soina has pledged to work on some of the major social and economic issues facing Kajiado County, such as the county’s high unemployment and school dropout rate. But as the self-proclaimed “Green MP”, the environment is her priority and if she wins the seat she said she wants to use that momentum to influence climate policy for the whole country. Her platform, however, also includes smaller-scale, local solutions that she hopes will show people they all have a role in the climate fight. That includes planting fruit trees at schools, police stations, religious institutions and homes to provide shade and food and to help the country reach its goal of having 10% of its land covered in trees by the end of the year. “I will also turn waste into cash by promoting recycling activities in my constituency,” Soina said. Out on the campaign trail, groups of young people surround Soina asking her to promise to create more jobs and get their climate concerns taken seriously by the government. Kajiado-based political analyst Douglas Were said Soina’s “climate flag” could play well at the polls in a county where drought is killing the pastures and livestock that the mainly pastoralist population depends on. “If someone can play that card and say, ‘We need to plant more trees, we need to conserve our rivers, so that you can provide food for your families’, the people will resonate with that,” he said. For some of her other supporters, it’s Soina’s youth and energy that are her greatest assets. “It’s important because of the urgency of action required to stave off the worst climate change impacts,” said Wanjira Mathai, regional director for Africa at the World Resources Institute and the daughter of Nobel-winner Wangari Maathai. “Africa is especially vulnerable and our youth are the future.”
Millions of Kenyans head to the polls next Tuesday, with two political veterans locked in a fierce battle for the presidency. Memories of violence during previous elections loom large, and the country is grappling with a cost-of-living crisis, widening inequality and a crippling drought. Four candidates are vying for the top job, with a tight race between frontrunners Deputy President William Ruto and Raila Odinga, the opposition leader now backed by the ruling party. Campaigning has been dominated by mud-slinging, fake news and the practice of showering prospective voters with freebies including umbrellas, groceries and cash. There is speculation Kenya may have its first presidential run-off, and concerns are mounting that if losing candidates challenge the results, the discord could erupt into street violence. “It’s very hard to say who will win the election because it’s a toss-up on whoever can... be more emotionally attractive” to voters, said Macharia Munene, professor of history at Nairobi’s United States International University. The leading contenders are familiar faces: Odinga, 77, served as prime minister from 2008 to 2013 and Ruto, 55, became deputy president in 2013. But Ruto - long cast as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor - saw his ambitions thwarted when his boss shook hands with long-time rival Odinga in 2018. Kenyatta, who has served two terms and cannot run again, has thrown his weight behind Odinga for August 9, giving him access to the ruling Jubilee party’s powerful election machinery. The handshake however dealt a blow to Odinga’s anti-establishment credentials, prompting suggestions he had effectively bartered away his autonomy in exchange for Kenyatta’s support. Joining the presidential contest are lawyers David Mwaure and George Wajackoyah - the latter an eccentric former spy. Kenyans will also choose senators, governors, lawmakers, woman representatives and some 1,500 county officials. The political gamesmanship has fuelled frustration, especially among young Kenyans. Around 22mn people have registered to vote, but the number of young voters has dropped compared to the 2017 poll. “Politics doesn’t seem to solve problems, it is just driving the apathy,” said Alex Awiti, an independent public policy researcher. “So (voters) think it doesn’t really matter, the next president, the next senator, the next governor will just do what the other guy did last time,” he told AFP. Odinga has vowed to tackle endemic corruption, pointing out that Ruto’s running mate is fighting a graft case. Meanwhile Ruto - with a rags-to-riches background and a shadowy reputation - has taken aim at the “dynasties” running Kenya - a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families, who gave the country its first president and vice-president. Ruto has styled himself as “hustler-in-chief” and champion of the downtrodden in a nation where three in 10 people live on less than $1.90 a day, according to the World Bank. Kenyans, already hit by the Covid pandemic, are struggling to afford basic staples as the war in Ukraine pushes up prices. “Customers who used to buy many items... have now cut down,” said Peter Kibacia, a fruit and vegetable seller in Nairobi. Any profit goes straight towards household expenses, the 40-year-old father of three told AFP. “There’s no saving at the moment.” Economic pressures could even compete with tribal allegiances as the key factor driving voter behaviour, according to some observers. With neither Ruto nor Odinga belonging to the dominant Kikuyu tribe, which has produced three of the country’s four presidents, the election will open a new chapter in Kenya’s history. If Odinga wins, his running mate Martha Karua would become deputy president, the first woman to hold the post. Fears persist about the risk of violence -- a reflection of the dark shadow cast by the 2007 polls, which were followed by a horrific bout of politically motivated ethnic clashes that killed more than 1,100 people. Odinga’s challenge to the 2017 election result was met with a heavy-handed police response which left dozens dead. Both polls were believed to be beset with problems, with the Supreme Court ordering a re-run of the 2017 vote, citing widespread irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the electoral commission. Concessions are a rarity in Kenya - no presidential election result has gone unchallenged since 2002. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a peace-building body set up after the 2007-2008 clashes, said there was a 53% chance of violence during the election period. Schools have already shut their doors while some supermarkets have urged customers to stock up in advance. Diplomatic sources were cautiously optimistic but with pressure high on the election commission to ensure a free and fair poll, voters remain wary. “It’s shaky,” said Suzana Napwora, a 22-year-old student and first-time voter. “But we will pray for a peaceful election.”
Kenya’s failure to hold police accountable for allegedly killing dozens of people after the 2017 elections heightens the risk of officers abusing their power during next week’s elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday. The US-based rights watchdog said the Kenyan authorities had failed to investigate accusations of police brutality or institute reforms, raising the threat of violence if the results of the August 9 elections are disputed. “The failure to tackle police abuse in previous Kenyan elections risks emboldening them to continue their misconduct around this year’s general election,” said the HRW’s director for East Africa, Otsieno Namwaya. Kenyan police are often accused by rights groups of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings, especially in poor neighbourhoods. They have also been accused in the past of running hit squads targeting those investigating alleged rights abuses by police, such as activists and lawyers. The HRW said that it had documented the alleged killing of at least 104 people by police during the 2017 election, mostly supporters of then opposition leader Raila Odinga. Heavily armed police were deployed to disperse demonstrators after Odinga refused to accept President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory. “With just seven days to another general election, Kenyan authorities have yet to take steps to ensure justice for police abuses that characterised the 2017 general elections,” the rights group said. The HRW said it had interviewed activists, government officials, police officers and victims’ families who voiced fears that law enforcers “would respond abusively” to any violence or public protests if disputes arose after the vote. On Tuesday Kenyans will be electing a new president as well as hundreds of members of parliament and about 1,500 county officials. About 150,000 officers will be deployed to ensure the safety of the polls, police chief Hilary Mutyambai has said. This year’s presidential vote is seen as a two-horse race between Deputy President William Ruto and Odinga, who is now backed by Kenyatta and the ruling party. With its diverse population and large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered politically motivated communal violence around election time, notably after a 2007 poll when more than 1,100 people died. At least 16 civil society groups called yesterday for a peaceful vote as they launched a platform to monitor the polls, saying it would “increase transparency and accountability”. “We have synergised our efforts and decided to coordinate ... to have a rapid and efficient response,” said the head of election observer group ELOG, Anne Ireri. The responsibility for a peaceful poll should not only be reserved for the electoral agency, said Felix Owuor, executive director of the Electoral Law and Governance Institute for Africa (ELGIA). “Collectively we can have an election that is credible.”
The Senegalese opposition said yesterday that it had won a “comfortable” majority in legislative elections, shortly after President Macky Sall’s ruling coalition also claimed victory in the polls. The head of the presidential coalition said that her side won 30 of the 46 departments in the West African country and overseas constituencies. “This undoubtedly gives us a majority in the National Assembly,” Aminata Toure told reporters late on Sunday. “We have given a majority in the National Assembly to our coalition president” Sall, she added, without giving the number of seats won by her camp or whether it was an absolute or relative majority. Toure however acknowledged that her coalition had been defeated in the capital, Dakar. However, yesterday the main opposition coalition expressed “astonishment” at Toure’s remarks, claiming that it had won a “comfortable majority” and that the presidential camp was “looking to once again confiscate the vote”. It also failed to specify the number of seats or what kind of majority it was claiming. “We call on national and international opinion to act as witnesses against any attempt to manipulate the results,” the opposition said in a statement. The opposition had hoped the elections would impose a cohabitation, or divided government, on Sall and curb any ambitions he may have for a third term. Sunday’s polls were an important test for Sall after local elections in January saw the opposition win in major cities, including Dakar, Ziguinchor in the south and Thies in the west. Initial indications were that the poll was close and the main opposition coalition gained ground, particularly in urban areas, according to local media. The single round of voting will decide the 165 seats of the single-chamber parliament – currently controlled by the president’s supporters – for the next five years. Sall has promised to appoint a prime minister – a position he abolished and then restored in December 2021 – from the winning camp. Some 7mn Senegalese were eligible to vote in the election, which passed without any major incidents. Turnout at several polling stations appeared relatively low, according to AFP correspondents and observers, and the interior ministry said the participation rate was 47%. Provisional overall results are expected no later than Friday, but local media and the main political parties have been counting some of the results since Sunday evening. Opposition coalition Wallu Senegal (“Save Senegal” in Wolof) said Sall had failed to obtain a majority and that prominent politicians including former prime minister Toure had been beaten. Yahya Sall, a retired soldier, said he hoped the new parliament “will have a strong opposition presence ... to advance democracy”. Lawmakers are elected according to a system that combines proportional representation, with national lists for 53 lawmakers, and majority voting in the country’s departments for 97 others. The diaspora elects the remaining 15 members of parliament. This year, eight coalitions are in the running, including Yewwi Askan Wi (“Liberate the People” in Wolof), the main opposition coalition headed by former presidential candidate Ousmane Sonko, who came third in the 2019 presidential election. Ahead of the poll, Yewwi Askan Wi joined forces with Wallu Senegal, led by former president Abdoulaye Wade. The two groups agreed to work together to obtain a parliamentary majority and “force governmental cohabitation”. The vote took place against a backdrop of rising prices, partly because of the Ukraine war. The opposition has questioned the priorities of the government, which has highlighted its subsidies for oil products and food as well as infrastructure building. Sall, 60, was elected in 2012 for seven years then re-elected in 2019 for another five. He has been accused of wanting to break the two-term limit and run again in 2024. He has remained vague on the subject, but any defeat of his supporters in Sunday’s vote could upset such plans. The 21-day election campaign passed in a mostly calm atmosphere. The pre-campaign period, however, was marked by violent demonstrations that left at least three people dead after several members of the main opposition coalition, including Sonko, were banned from taking part. On June 29, the opposition eased tensions by agreeing to take part in the elections, which it had threatened to boycott.