Accessibility links

Kenyan Voters Stream to the Polls - 2002-12-27

Voters in Kenya have been streaming to the polls to determine the successor to the country's long-ruling president, Daniel arap Moi. Kenyans are hoping for a leader who can stop corruption, and ease the poverty that has plagued the country for decades.

The scene in many districts throughout Kenya has been the same - hundreds of people lined up at polling stations well before dawn for a chance to have their say in who will lead the country.

For George Ngengi, 20, that leader should be the ruling KANU party candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta. "He is an energetic person. He is young. He knows about young people," said Mr. Ngengi.

Mr. Kenyatta, 41, is the son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta. He is a political novice who was hand-picked by President Moi to succeed him. That has led to charges that Mr. Kenyatta would be little more than a puppet of the outgoing president, who is stepping down after 24 years in power.

Casting his ballot at a polling station in his district of Gatundu, about 40 kilometers north of Nairobi, Mr. Kenyatta once again denied the charge. He said he and the KANU party are solidly behind the calls for sweeping political and economic changes. "I think, I have learned that Kenyans are really looking for new hope, new inspiration," he said. "Kenyans are really looking for leadership that is going to give them some clear direction, that is going to get us out of the immense economic mess that we are in."

Once considered one of Africa's best economic performers, Kenya has been in a steep decline, as corruption and bribery continue to drive away investors. Mr. Kenyatta has promised to make economic reform his first priority.

But not everyone is convinced he should be the next president. In fact, public opinion polls give his opponent, opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki, 71, a wide lead.

A woman, who would not give her name for fear of retribution from KANU supporters, said she voted for Mr. Kibaki, a former vice-president who recently left the ruling KANU party to join a coalition of opposition parties.

The woman said she believes only someone outside of the ruling party can bring meaningful changes, in such critical areas as education. "Most children are not going to school these days," she said. "They are out of school because of poverty, and if they offer free education, it should help our village so much."

More than a third of the country's 30 million people are registered to vote at over 18,000 polling stations. Tens of thousands of election observers are monitoring the voting.

A win by Mr. Kibaki would be the first opposition victory since the country introduced multi-party elections 10 years ago. It would also signal the end of KANU's four decade-long dominance in Kenyan politics.