NAIROBI — In an address marking Kenya's independence day, President Mwai Kibaki has urged Kenyans to register to vote ahead of next year's presidential election. Yhe president's plea comes as election officials fall behind in their efforts to get Kenyans signed up.
President Kibaki addressed a crowd of thousands Wednesday at Nairobi's Nyayo Stadium to celebrate Jamhuri Day - the day Kenya declared independence from the British 49 years ago.
This is the last Jamhuri Day Kibaki will preside over as president, as his term in office is set to expire and he cannot run in next year's election, scheduled for March 4.
He urged Kenyans to register to vote, as the deadline to complete the process ends in seven days.
“Registering to vote will enable you to carry out your civic duty of electing your leaders,” he said.
Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is falling behind schedule on its voter registration drive. As of Monday, the IEBC said only 8.6 million people had registered, out of 18 million eligible voters.
Wednesday's event doubled as a farewell ceremony for President Kibaki, who dedicated most of his speech to reflecting on the achievements the country has attained during his 10 years in office - from expanding the country's tax base, to increasing the number of Internet users.
He said it will be the responsibility of Kenya's future leaders to maintain this economic momentum.
“Kenya is now at the edge of a takeoff to greater prosperity, equity and unity," he said. "We must keep up, keep our eyes on the goal of building a great Kenya.”
Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is also one of the front-runners for president, praised Kibaki for his years of service and called on all Kenyans to hold a peaceful vote.
“We all must commit to holding free, fair and peaceful elections. To realize our aspirations and the promises that stand before us, we will need to elect a credible, focused and committed leadership that will implement the constitution in letter and spirit,” he said.
Odinga lost to President Kibaki in a disputed run-off vote in the last presidential election in 2007. The results set off weeks of inter-tribal violence across the country that left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Odinga became Prime Minister as part of a Grand Coalition with the president, formed in a power sharing agreement to bring about peace.