Kenyans Prepare For Decisive Election

Kenyans go to the polls on Monday to elect their next president and usher in the implementation of a new constitution. Many hope to avoid the ethnic violence the 2007 polls touched off. NPR's Gregory Warner gives weekends on All Things Considered host Celeste Headlee a preview.

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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee.

Coming up, novelist Jamaica Kincaid is back with a new novel, her first in 10 years. But first, in just a few hours, Kenyans will go to the polls to choose a new president. The last elections were followed by months of ethnic violence that shattered lives and communities across the country and shook to the core Kenya's vision of itself as one of the stable secure African countries. NPR's Gregory Warner is in Nairobi on the eve of this election, and he joins us now. Hi, Gregory.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Hi there, Celeste.

HEADLEE: So introduce us to the two leading presidential candidates in this race.

WARNER: Sure. In one corner, we have Uhuru Kenyatta. He's 51 years old. He's one of the 40 richest men in the entire African continent. He's also the son of Kenya's first president. And in the other corner, we have Raila Odinga. He's 68. He's the current prime minister, and he's the son of Kenya's first vice president.

I mentioned the fathers because their fathers were once leaders in the independence movement. Then they had a major political falling out. So now, this historical, you could even say tribal feud continues a generation later in tomorrow's election.

HEADLEE: Although Kenyatta is facing charges from the international criminal court dealing with his complicity in the violence that occurred after the last election in 2007. So what happens if he wins?

WARNER: Well, you know, it kind of depends also on how he wins because the last election was rife with criticism that there was a lot of election shenanigans, there was ballot stuffing. So if he wins fairly, he will be seen as credible. However, it causes a big problem for the international community because, already, a number of heads of state have said that there will be consequences if Uhuru Kenyatta wins. He's facing charges, as you say, in the Hague. So if he has to go to the Hague in August, how is he going to run the government?

HEADLEE: So what are the chances that we would see a repeat this time around of what we saw in 2007, ethnic violence following the results of the presidential election?

WARNER: Well, a lot has changed, you know, this time around. There's a new constitution, was passed in 2010 that puts a lot of fire breaks in there for disputes to be solved in the courts instead of in the streets, also makes the election process more transparent. And you also have a lot more voices urging peace, you know, business leaders, church leaders, civil society groups, sometimes the politicians themselves. The international community's putting a lot more money into this election, so there's a lot more attention to it.

On the other hand, there will be some ethnic conflict. There already has been in the tense weeks leading up to the election. And, look, there's an economic reason for this, because Kenya has a lot of government corruption. Kenyan politics can be a winner-take-all situation for the job and power. And people do historically vote along tribal lines.

HEADLEE: And so describe what Nairobi is like on the eve of this very important election.

WARNER: It's a bit surreal because on the one hand, you know, tribalism is definitely not a hush-hush thing anymore. Everybody's talking about it in the newspapers, on the presidential debate in Kenya and also on Facebook and on Twitter. Because Kenya, it has a huge educated, very wired, very connected middle class, which is a big factor in this election. They say that the middle class is the biggest tribe in Kenya. If only they would vote, things would turn out differently.

So whatever happens in this election, it will happen under all this scrutiny, all this attention. And yet everyone's just sitting here waiting to see what will happen.

HEADLEE: NPR's Gregory Warner in Nairobi. Thank you so much.

WARNER: Thanks, Celeste.

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