Hope and excitement in the hometowns of Kenya’s presidential favorites » Capital News

Eldoret (Kenya) (AFP), August 8 – On the eve of Kenya’s election, yellow banners drape William Ruto’s stronghold of Eldoret, where voters are quietly optimistic their local hero will become the next president after a deadly contest.

Some 90 kilometers away, not a single banner of Ruto flies in Kisumu, the stronghold of his opponent Raila Odinga, whose victory is taken for granted by many in the lakeside city.

Eldoret and Kisumu have been hotbeds of election violence in the past and Tuesday’s poll is too close to be announced, raising fears of similar civil unrest.

But in Eldoret, voters say they are confident that peace will prevail even if they firmly back Ruto – a son of the soil and ally-turned-enemy of the ruling establishment, who now back veteran opposition Odinga.

The biggest town in the Rift Valley has been painted yellow and the ubiquitous presence of wheelbarrows – the symbol of Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party – is a clear reminder of Eldoret allegiances.

But along a busy junction, dozens of Odinga supporters gathered loosely near a group of Ruto supporters in a so-called ‘Bunge la Mwananchi’, or ‘citizens’ parliament’.

“In previous elections, it was not possible to have two groups supporting two different candidates so close to each other,” said Alfred Ekale, a 38-year-old security guard and supporter of Ruto.

“Everyone was suspicious of each other and there was a lot of tension.

“This time we are all together here, from different tribes, and we can coexist without tension.”

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– ‘Time to party’ –

To the southwest, in sunny Kisumu, a carnival atmosphere developed as the hours ticked away until polling day.

Voters in Eldoret say they are confident that peace will prevail even if they strongly back Ruto © AFP / Simon MAINA

Motorbikes came and went with bikers blaring vuvuzela horns for Odinga, a political titan in the western regions around Lake Victoria known affectionately as “Baba” (Father).

Odinga – like his father before him – fought Kenya’s rulers from the trenches of the opposition, running unsuccessfully in four presidential elections he claimed were rigged and spending years in jail as a political prisoner.

Now that the ruling party backs his candidacy, many in Kisumu see victory this time as predestined – going so far as to call Odinga the ‘president-in-waiting’.

“We are expecting a big party, because we know the person who will win the election. The people of Kisumu are ready,” said Abdallah Abuga, a moto-taxi driver in the city center.

“Raila Amolo Odinga will win.”

Odinga would be Kenya’s first Luo community president, and many parents believe his victory would bring much-needed development to the region, denied for decades by Nairobi’s ruling elites.

“We have always been sidelined. Kisumu has always been the opposition,” said Amos Owino, a 31-year-old accounting graduate, who claimed he had been overlooked for jobs because he was Luo.

“It’s time for change, and a big one, for the entire West Region…We’re going to celebrate, it’s going to be a party.”

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– ‘Everything is calm’ –

The Kisumu champion also enjoys some support in Eldoret, where Joseph Owuor has said Odinga is the “perfect” candidate to lead Kenya.

Many in Kisumu see victory as predestined – going so far as to call Odinga the ‘president in waiting’ © AFP/File/Patrick Meinhardt

Despite rooting for the enemy in Ruto’s own backyard, Owuor said the rock-throwing and divisionism that marred past elections was not a feature this time around.

“This time there is tolerance,” he said. “I believe everything will be fine. I believe it will be a free, fair and peaceful election.

Additional security forces have been deployed in Eldoret with the town – along with Kisumu – identified as possible hotspots for violence by rights monitors.

“They’ve sent a lot of police, but it’s quiet,” a taxi driver in Eldoret said as a truckload of soldiers passed.

In Kisumu – where police turned water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition on voters in recent elections – the striking absence of boots on the ground this time is another good omen.

“Their guys are still there. But now there are no police here, everything is calm… it showed again that the elections will be fair,” Owino said.