Kenya, considered to be East Africa's biggest economy, will on March 4, hold general elections that will see the emergence of a president, senators, county governors, members of parliament, civic wards and women county representatives in a poll that will be measured for possible assessment of Africa's democratic trajectory.
Originally slated for August or December last year, a court ruling pushed front the date of the elections which will be the first under the new constitution with the 2010 referendum and also the first by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
In Kenya, the president is elected for a five-year term. The National Assembly (or Bunge) has 224 members, 210 members elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies, 12 members appointed and two ex-officio members. Elections have been held in 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007. Election violence is not uncommon in Kenya. In the 2007 presidential election, reports said an estimated 1,000 people were killed while about 600,000 were displaced.
The violence was sparked-off by disagreements over who won the presidency --Rahila Odinga, then an opposition leader, or current President Mwai Kibaki, who was seeking a second term. A peace deal allowed Odinga to become prime minister in a coalition government.
Anxiety over this year's election has been heightened by tribal conflicts which in August last year, caused the country to record a high death toll from deliberate killings that were linked to the last election. Clashes have also occurred as a result of alleged misuse of land and water resources. There has been renewed tension after the killing of Aboud Rogo, a Muslim cleric on August 27 last year after which upheavals erupted in Mombasa, the country's second largest city, leading to some deaths. In the course of party nominations between January 17 and 18 this year, there were unrests in several parts of the country, especially in Nairobi, Nyanza and Central Provinces.
The two main rivals in this election, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding father Jomo Kenyatta, were forced to answer questions concerning tribalism in the country's election during a recent election debate.
Mr Kenyatta, said to be Kenya's richest man, described tribalism as a cancer that had caused conflict and death while Odinga, whose supporters believe won the last election, called it a disease of the elite. Mr Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto, are expected at the International Criminal Court in The Hague after this election concerning violence in the last election. Kenyatta's trial is scheduled to start in April, but he says it won't hinder his ability to govern if elected president on March 4.
"If the people of Kenya do decide to vote for me as their president, I will be able to handle the issue of clearing my name while ensuring the business of government continues and our manifesto and agenda for Kenya is implemented," Kenyatta said during a presidential debate Monday in Nairobi. The ICC prosecutor says the trial may last for years.
However, top US State Department official for Africa, Johnnie Carson last week warned Kenyans against voting for Kenyatta. Shortly after his warning came further warnings from France and Switzerland that they would have only essential contact with Kenya's top leadership if Kenyatta wins the presidency.
But Kenya's Foreign Minister, Sam Ongeri, a key ally of Kenyatta, roundly criticized the European Union ambassadors in person for what he called an orchestrated attempt to favour a presidential candidate in the election. The minister on Monday summoned the EU ambassadors to register his displeasure over those statements. The US ambassador was reportedly absent from the meeting but Kenya sent a diplomatic note to the US asking for an explanation of Carson's statement.
"This is a major exercise which is being done in the history of this country and therefore Kenyans must be left to ponder slowly and carefully how they are going to choose their leaders, not be imposed. This is a democratic state ... we least expect any interference at this level by anybody from any quarter and Kenyans must be left to make their choices," Ongeri said, adding that the remarks by the EU envoys were clearly inflammatory and could have polarizing effect on the country.
Reports say Kenyatta is charged with crimes against humanity for alleged involvement in the murder, forcible deportation, persecution and rape of supporters of Odinga after the 2007 vote. Ruto, a former education minister, faces charges of murder, forcible deportation and persecution of supporters of Kibaki. Despite supporting rival camps during the 2007 vote, they are now on the same ticket.
Analysts say Kenya can be seen as emblematic of Africa's rise with an economic growth of close to five per cent but dogged by insecurity, rampant corruption and the violence in the last election which almost led to civil war and left four of the country's top politicians facing charges at the International Criminal Court.
The country is ethnically and culturally diverse and this diversity is also said to be a source of conflict. She gained independence from Britain in 1963 after which it was ruled by president Jomo Kenyatta who was succeeded in 1978 by Daniel Arap Moi. He was in power for 24 years under the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) the only legal political party then. Multi-party politics came up in the early 1990s after several violent unrests and international pressure. Opposition candidate Mwai Kibaki ended KANU's prolonged rule with an emphatic victory in 2002.
Other presidential candidates include; Mohamed Dida, Prof Ole Kiyapi, Peter Kenneth, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua and Paul Muite who all promised during the first presidential debate on Monday to concede if they lose the elections and to use the judiciary to resolve any issues that arise. A second debate is set for February 25. This promise stands to be tested as Africa basks in the success of Ghana's recent peaceful democratic transition. Kenya being an East African runner has to do everything to get it right to avoid a repeat of the violence associated with the 2007 election.