NAIROBI, KENYA — With just under a week to go before Kenya’s presidential election, candidates are making their final efforts to court voters. The race has come down to two main competitors: Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president who represents the Jubilee coalition, and Raila Odinga, the current prime minister and head of the CORD alliance.
The two candidates have drawn huge crowds as they cross the country seeking votes.
Some of their most vocal supporters gather on a street corner in Nairobi in a so-called People’s Parliament. Kenyans meet daily to argue politics and to try to convince each other to change their views.
CORD supporter Omukoko Shitandi said, "Every Kenyan can agree with me that Raila Odinga, politically, he was the brainchild of the struggle for multiparty in Kenya. And socially he has been the champion of the struggle for the rights of both the poor and the rich in Kenya.”
Jubilee supporters, like Patrick Matho, are unconvinced.
“There’s a lot of unemployment in Kenya but we believe that in Jubilee, the way we’ve read the manifesto and the way they have put some funds aside for the youth and women, I think it’s the right party,” said Matho.
Uniting his base
Jubilee supporters are defensive, though, about the International Criminal Court charges against Kenyatta for his alleged role in the violence that followed the last election in 2007. Western diplomats have suggested a Kenyatta presidency could weaken ties between the international community and Kenya.
But professor Joshua Kivuva of the University of Nairobi said the charges have actually helped to unite Mr. Kenyatta’s base.
“Without the ICC, the Jubilee would not exist. Uhuru Kenyatta would not even be a factor in this. He was a nobody without the ICC,” said Kivuva.
Supporters from both parties acknowledge that tribalism dominates Kenyan politics.
Odinga, who is part of the Luo tribe, is relying on votes from his supporters in the western part of the country.
Kenyatta depends on the Kikuyu tribal vote in central Kenya.
Professor Kivuva said the role of tribe, however, is largely misunderstood.
“Actually Kenya has never had tribal politics, that is the biggest misnomer that has been perpetrated all the time. Kenyans vote very much on ideological basis, it’s on that [where] ideology and tribe converge,” he said.
Other candidates have tried to change the political conversation this year.
Peter Kenneth ran on a campaign that rejected tribalism and tried to court Kenyans from across ethnic lines. While he has been popular on the campaign trail, he has ranked near the bottom in recent polls.
All parties say they want to avoid a repeat of the violence that killed more than 1,100 people following the last disputed election.
The vote on Monday is likely to be incredibly close, though, with the two leading politicians separated by only a couple of percentage points in recent polls. Candidates have already started trading accusations of vote rigging, raising tensions and the possibility that the results again could be disputed.