Violence and silence spread across Kenya this week, as the contentious Oct. 26 rerun of the presidential elections sparked both protests and boycotts in the East African country. The western town of Kisumu and the Kibera slum area of the capital, Nairobi, were fraught with turbulent clashes, resulting in at least three protesters shot dead. Meanwhile across the region, overall voter turnout was at an historic low, as many supporters of presidential candidate Raila Odinga followed his calls to abstain from the "sham" election rerun.
The initial August 2017 election saw President Uhuru Kenyatta win 54 percent of the vote, with a large voter turnout of nearly 80 percent of Kenyans. However, Odinga, the opposition leader and former prime minister of Kenya, denounced the election as a "sham," claiming the electronic results had been hacked in favor of the sitting president, Kenyatta.
Violent clashes between police and protesters followed, leaving over 30 people dead.
Kenya's Supreme Court swiftly declared Kenyatta's victory invalid, and scheduled new elections for Oct. 26. Kenyatta admitted his disappointment in the decision, but called for "peace, peace, peace. That is the nature of democracy."
Then just two weeks shy of the rescheduled vote, Odinga announced he would be dropping out of the presidential race, alleging that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was still rife with problems and any future polls would continue to favor a "computer generated leader."
Odinga went further and demanded yet another postponement of the elections until the IEBC made reforms, encouraging his supporters to abstain unless amendments to the commission were made. He pointed to a Supreme Court decision which decrees that elections must be rescheduled in the event of a presidential candidate dropping out.
President Kenyatta's team responded by identifying a different regulation, which leaves Kenyatta the victor: if a candidate leaves the race, the remaining contender is president by default. Kenyatta said democracy was a universal right and that no one person could "stand in the path of the progress of 45 million Kenyans."
Odinga's contestations to the process and Kenyatta's proclamations of "peace, peace, peace" have left the country riddled with unrest.
Three were killed and about 25 people wounded in the conflict on and leading up to election day. Police fired tear gas and bullets on the predominantly young followers of Odinga, who swarmed on polling places in an attempt to prevent people from voting. Some protesters harassed those with a stain of purple ink on their fingers: a sign they had cast their vote. Many polling places didn't open at all in the midst of the clashes, and about a quarter of the 180 electoral officials who were set to work in Kibera resigned over security concerns in the days leading up to the re-election.
The scene is reminiscent of another unstable time in Kenya's past. Ethnic violence after the 2007 elections claimed the lives of over 1,300 people, and displaced more than 600,000. The devastation of those years is still raw in the memories of Kenyan voters.
While tensions rise, the fate of average Kenyans remains uncertain. Everyday concerns loom larger by the day, and rising prices, unemployment, and corruption are problems not so easily conquered with a simple election.