Hundreds of men took to the streets of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold and centre of major political unrest a decade ago, to vent their rage on Wednesday over provisional results that put President Uhuru Kenyatta well ahead in Kenya’s election race.
The frustration of the crowd, most of them lacking jobs or hope, laid bare the challenges for whoever becomes the next president after Tuesday’s election – Kenyatta or Kisumu’s political hero, opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters in Kisumu, which is dominated by Odinga’s ethnic Luo minority, as the election commission website showed Kenyatta leading by about 10 percentage points after most votes had been counted.
“We don’t have jobs. We want to work,” said 22-year-old Shabaan Mohamed, still sweating after running from the police as they fired tear gas. “Uhuru is a thief!” protesters yelled as they marched through the streets, waving sticks. Some set fire to tyres and threw rocks and stones.
“No Raila, no peace!” was another refrain echoing through the Kondele district, scene of skirmishes between demonstrators and police throughout the afternoon. Even before Tuesday’s vote, many in Kisumu feared the 72-year-old, left-leaning Odinga would be robbed of victory, as he says he also was in the 2007 and 2013 elections. They feel marginalised by Nairobi’s ethnic Kikuyu and Kalenjin elite.
In 2007, Odinga’s calls for demonstrations triggered waves of ethnic violence that spread from Kisumu across the country. Around 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced.On Wednesday Odinga told a Nairobi news conference the election commission’s computer systems and databases had been hacked in an assault on democracy designed to “overrule the power of Kenyans”. His cries of fraud were enough to send already frustrated and suspicious loyalists into a fury.
Residents and shopkeepers in Kisumu complained of damage being done by protesters to property and livelihoods. Many shops and petrol stations were shuttered as residents awaited news of the vote count from Nairobi, 400 km (250 miles) to the east.
Some worried the violence that marred previous elections would not produce the outcome they badly want – a leader who can tackle problems such as rising living costs and unemployment. “The problem is between Uhuru and Raila. It should not involve the common man,” said Dickens Otieno, 30, a hospital cook who watched a skirmish from an overpass.
Between the pops of tear gas canisters, 39-year-old Jackie Oduor expressed mixed feelings about the unrest.
“We’ve been marginalised for so long and we need change now,” said Oduor, who said she had “two degrees but no job”. “We are normally peaceful people. It’s only what’s happened that has us so distressed. So many young boys have graduated from school, then find nothing to do,” she said. “Enough.”