Pre-vote city exodus in Kenya

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Passengers jostled with ticket touts and hawkers at Kenya’s main bus stations as thousands started leaving cities before next week’s vote, some because they are registered in rural wards, others because they are scared of violence.

Jitters over the August 8 polls, a decade since 1,200 people were killed in ethnic unrest after a disputed election, intensified with the torture and murder of a senior election commission official.

Printing company worker George Omondi, an ethnic Luo, said he was taking his wife and children to their home village of Oyugis in western Kenya, a stronghold of opposition leader and fellow Luo Raila Odinga.
“I won’t risk my life staying in Nairobi,” Omondi said, as he pushed through a scrum of people to board a bus at Nairobi’s central bus station.
“I’m going to my village and will stay there until after results are announced. We feel safer at home.”

Voters in the East African nation of 49 million will pick a president, members of parliament and regional authorities.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, facing off against long-time rival Raila Odinga, was charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating the 2007 unrest, but the case against him and his current deputy, William Ruto, collapsed.

Odinga ratcheted up the rhetoric this week, saying at a campaign rally near Nairobi the only way for Kenyatta to win was by rigging the poll.

Kenyatta hit back with a challenge to Odinga to present evidence.
“The electoral commission has told us they have put in place all the necessary arrangements to ensure there will be no rigging, but he keeps insisting so maybe he should tell us how,” Kenyatta told Reuters at a campaign rally east of Nairobi.

SPREAD OF FEAR

Government acknowledged many were nervous.
“There is a lot of fear making some Kenyans choose to leave to go to their villages where they perceive it is more peaceful,” senior interior ministry official Karanja Kibicho told a news conference.

He said government was deploying more than 150,000 officers from police and other agencies including the wildlife service to secure nearly 41,000 polling stations.

He asked Kenyans to remain calm. “They need to stay where they are registered as voters, and they need to trust we will protect them to actually vote.”

Transport companies said twice as many 65-seater buses left Nairobi’s biggest bus station, Machakos, as normal.

There were similar scenes in Mombasa, where bus conductors were strapping mattresses, plastic jerry cans and suitcases onto the tops of buses.
“In 2008 I lost all my household property because of chaos from the elections. I also survived by chance,” said Hemedi Mbutua, a 45-year-old quarry worker, travelling to his village in western Kenya.
“I swore never to be around during elections.”



Thousands of others who registered to vote in their home villages were taking advantage of a few days out of town with friends and family.
“The major reason people are traveling is to vote. Many people have registered at home,” said Machokos chairman Paul Ouma.