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East Africa

Showdown looms as Kenya rivals pick same venue for final election push

Presidential Aspirants Raila Odinga and William Ruto

Kenya’s leading presidential candidates on Tuesday announced plans to make their final push for votes at the same stadium on the same day, raising fears of possible clashes before the August 9 polls. 

The high-stakes election campaign has seen Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga combing the vast East African country for votes, with thousands of people attending their rallies.

Previous polls have often been marred by violence, and Tuesday’s announcement has set the stage for a showdown, with both parties saying they have reserved Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium on August 6, the last campaign day in a race deemed too close to call.

Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) paid 1.58 million Kenyan shillings ($13,500) for the 30,000-seater stadium, in addition to a refundable fee of one million Kenyan shillings to cover any damage, according to a contract seen by AFP.

Meanwhile, Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja (Swahili for Quest for Unity) coalition “will hold its last official campaign meeting” at the same venue on August 6, the party’s secretary general Junet Mohammed said in a statement. 

The choice of venue will act as a litmus test for the safety of the polls.

Last month, police fired teargas to disperse stone-throwing supporters of the two candidates when they clashed over access to a campaign venue in the east of Nairobi, forcing Ruto to take cover. 

But a UDA official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity offered assurances, saying: “We have the legal right to the premises. We expect no trouble.”

Some 22.1 million Kenyans are eligible to vote in this year’s polls which are shaping up to be a two-horse race between 55-year-old Ruto and Odinga, a 77-year-old veteran opposition politician now backed by the ruling party. 

Two other candidates have been cleared to contest the race to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta, who must stand down after serving the maximum of two five-year terms.

Ruto was initially anointed by Kenyatta as his successor but has found himself out in the cold after Kenyatta and Odinga forged an alliance in 2018.

With its diverse population and large ethnic voting blocs, Kenya has long suffered politically motivated communal violence around election time, notably after a 2007 poll when more than 1,100 people died.

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