In an election many thought they would never see, Kenyans headed to the polls today on foot, on bicycles and in packed minibuses to determine who will succeed President Daniel arap Moi — the leader of this East African nation for the past 24 years.
With Moi, 78, constitutionally obliged to step down, the contest pits the ruling party’s Uhuru Kenyatta against Mwai Kibaki, leader of an alliance of opposition parties and the front-runner throughout the campaign.
Although three other men are contesting the presidency, Kenyatta and Kibaki are the only ones with a realistic chance of winning. Both are members of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe.
Previous elections in 1992 and 1997 were marred by ethnic violence and allegations of vote-rigging, but the run up to this year’s vote has been mostly peaceful.
Some 20,000 Kenyan observers will monitor the election, helped by 140 foreign monitors.
However, today’s Financial Times reports that massive payouts by the Kenyan government to politically sympathetic state contractors may risk distorting the outcome of what some consider to be the most important election in the country’s post-independence history.
In Mombassa, voting proceeded normally with no indication that two terrorist attacks there a month ago had had any influence on the campaign.
Eleven Kenyans, three Israelis and two or three suicide bombers died when an explosives-laden vehicle slammed into a tourist hotel frequented by Israelis on Nov. 28. At about the same time, attackers fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli aircraft leaving Mombassa for Tel Aviv, but missed.
Meanwhile, the United States military is steeping up its presence in East Africa. Earlier this year a new U.S. military base was established in Djibouti, a small but strategically located country in the Horn of Africa. The base is just miles across the Red Sea from Yemen and within striking distance of Iraq.
In September, 800 special operations troops were quietly sent to the new base. Capt. David Connolly, an Army spokesman flown in hastily from a U.S. base in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar to deal with inquisitive reporters said: “Since the beginning of the global war on terrorism, the U.S. Central Command has maintained a military presence in various countries within its area of responsibility in order to train for and respond to a variety of potential operations.”
- Interview with Ali Mazrui, African scholar and Professor at Binghamton University