MOMBASA, Kenya – Kenya’s presidential election drew millions of eager voters who endured long lines to cast ballots Monday, but the vote was marred by violence that left 19 people dead, including four policemen hacked to death by machete-wielding separatists.
Officials urged voters not to be intimidated by the violence amid fears the impending election results could spark another round of the ethnic-related bloodshed in which more than 1,000 people died after the 2007 vote.
The election is the first presidential poll under a new constitution designed to prevent the ethnic violence of 2007-08. Enthusiastic voters formed long lines around the country, and election officials estimated turnout at 70 percent of 14 million registered voters.
The voting got off to a bloody start when a group of 200 separatists set a trap for police in the coastal city of Mombasa in the predawn hours, Inspector General David Kimaiyo said. Four police were hacked to death with machetes, coast police boss Aggrey Adoli said.
The separatist group – the Mombasa Republican Council – had threatened election day attacks, and Kimaiyo said police were planning a raid that will see the end of the MRC.
The MRC believes Kenya’s coast should be an independent country. Their cause, which is not defined by religion, is fueled by the belief that political leaders in Nairobi have taken the coast’s land for themselves, impoverishing indigenous residents.
The country’s top two presidential candidates condemned the Mombasa attacks. Prime Minister Raila Odinga called it a heinous act of aggression during a historic exercise. Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta said he was discouraged by the news but he was sure the security situation would be brought under control.
Authorities flew in an additional 400 police officers to Mombasa to increase security. The United Nations restricted the movement of its staff on the coast because of the violence.
Monday’s separatist violence is different from the tribal, postelection violence experienced five years ago. The ethnic violence could still break out if Odinga or Kenyatta supporters feel their candidate was cheated out of a win.
Odinga’s acrimonious loss to President Mwai Kibaki in 2007 triggered violence that ended only after the international community stepped in. Odinga was named prime minister in a coalition government led by Kibaki, with Kenyatta named deputy prime minister.