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Eldoret (Kenya) (AFP) – On the eve of Kenya’s election, yellow banners drape William Ruto’s bastion of Eldoret, where voters are quietly optimistic their hometown hero will emerge the next president after a bruising contest.
Some 90 kilometres away (55 miles), not a single Ruto banner flies in Kisumu, the stronghold of his opponent Raila Odinga, whose victory is considered a foregone conclusion by many in the lakeside city.
Eldoret and Kisumu have been hotbeds of electoral violence in the past and Tuesday’s poll is too close to call, raising fears of similar civil unrest.
But in Eldoret, voters say they are confident peace will prevail even as they firmly back Ruto — a son of the soil and ally-turned-foe of the ruling establishment, which now supports opposition veteran Odinga.
The Rift Valley’s biggest city has been painted yellow and the ubiquitous presence of wheelbarrows — the symbol of Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party — serves as a clear reminder of Eldoret’s allegiances.
But along a busy intersection, dozens of Odinga supporters gathered freely near a group of Ruto fans at a so-called “Bunge la Mwananchi”, or “citizens’ parliament”.
“In the previous elections, it was not possible to have two groups supporting two different candidates so close to each other,” said Alfred Ekale, a 38-year-old security guard and Ruto backer.
“Everyone was suspicious of each other and there was a lot of tension.
“This time we are all together here, from different tribes, and we can coexist without tension.”
– ‘Time to party’ –
To the southwest in sunny Kisumu, a carnival-like atmosphere was building as the hours ticked down to voting day.
Motorcycles dashed back and forth with riders blaring vuvuzela horns for Odinga, a political titan in the western regions around Lake Victoria known affectionally as “Baba” (Father).
Odinga — like his father before him — fought Kenya’s rulers from the opposition trenches, running unsuccessfully in four presidential elections he claimed were rigged, and spending years in jail as a political prisoner.
Now with the ruling party backing his candidacy, many in Kisumu see victory this time as preordained — going as far as to call Odinga the “president-in-waiting.”
“We expect a big celebration, because we know the person who is going to win the election. The people of Kisumu are ready,” said Abdallah Abuga, a motorcycle taxi driver in the city centre.
“Raila Amolo Odinga is going to win.”
Odinga would be the first president from Kenya’s Luo community, and many kinsmen believe his victory would bring much-needed development to the region denied for decades by ruling elites in Nairobi.
“We’ve always been sidelined. Kisumu has always been the opposition,” said Amos Owino, a 31-year-old accounting graduate, who claimed he’d been overlooked for jobs because he was Luo.
“It is the time to change, and a big one, for the whole western region… We are going to celebrate, it’s going to be a party.”
– ‘All is calm’ –
The Kisumu champion also enjoys some support in Eldoret, where Joseph Owuor said Odinga was the “perfect” candidate to lead Kenya.
Despite rooting for the enemy in Ruto’s very backyard, Owuor said the stone-throwing and divisionism that marred past elections wasn’t a feature this time around.
“This time, there is tolerance,” he said. “I believe that everything will go well. I think it will be a free, fair and peaceful election.”
Extra security forces have been deployed to Eldoret with the city — along with Kisumu — identified as possible hotspots for violence by rights monitors.
“They have sent a lot of police, but it is quiet,” said one cab driver in Eldoret as a truckload of soldiers pass by.
In Kisumu — where police have turned water cannons, tear gas and live rounds on voters during past elections — the striking absence of boots on the ground this time is another good omen.
“Their guys are always around. But now there’s no police around here, everything is calm… that again has shown it’s going to be a fair election,” said Owino.
© 2022 AFP
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