Kenyans headed back to the polls yesterday amid heightened tensions following the withdrawal of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s closest challenger and longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga, who had earlier traversed the country urging his supporters to snub the vote.
The tensions that played out in the lead up to the repeat election – after the Supreme Court annulled Kenyatta’s victory in the August 8 presidential election – have invoked memories of the violence that followed the 2007 polls.
While 2007/08 violence claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Kenyans and affected East Africa’s largest economy, it also had far-reaching consequences on the rest of the region, causing heavy losses to businesses in Rwanda and other neighbouring countries.
The Eastern African region and indeed Africa as a whole have had more than their fair share of human tragedies over the years.
From the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda to terror attacks and senseless conflicts that have ravaged the region in recent years, Eastern Africa has lost countless lives as a result of hate, division and radicalism.
Even as the results from the Kenya presidential elections are still trickling in amidst tension and anxiety, the people of Kenya need to remember that politics should not in any way stand in the way of peaceful coexistence, let alone cause the shedding of a compatriot’s blood, or anyone’s blood for that matter.
Africans need to treat an election as an exercise of free choice and not an ultimate determiner of how tolerant we should be toward one another.
Politicians have a key role to play in keeping society together. Kenyan politicians on both sides of the divide have a responsibility to calm the tensions, avoid inflammatory speech, and rein in their respective supporters. Political differences notwithstanding, love for one’s country should supersede anything else and therefore every citizen ought to behave in a manner that upholds peace, security and harmony in their country.
Kenyans should put country first in the current politically charged environment – regardless of the outcome of yesterday’s poll.