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Kenyans ‘Determined’ to Move Beyond 2007 Election Violence

President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta waves at the Bomas vote tallying center in Kenya’s capital Nairobi on March 9. Photo by Hoss Njuguna/AFP/Getty Images.

Updated March 11: Final results showed Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidential election in Kenya with 50.07 percent of the vote, but challenger Prime Minister Raila Odinga refused to concede defeat.

Both Kenyatta and Odinga asked Kenyans to remain calm to avoid the violence that followed the last election. Kenyatta faces a trial in the International Criminal Court in July for allegedly orchestrating the violence in 2007-8.

Original Story:

Kenyans wait in line to vote in Maasailand on Monday. Photo by Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images.

Millions of Kenyans voted in general elections Monday, and though there were some incidents of violence, the worst many experienced were lengthy lines and long wait times, international election monitors reported.

Early Monday morning, members of a separatist group attacked police with machetes in the coastal city of Mombasa, killing at least 19. Gunmen also reportedly overran two polling sites near the border of Somalia as night fell, according to the Associated Press.

But throughout the day, voting took place in a generally peaceful and orderly manner, said John Stremlau, vice president for Peace Programs at the Atlanta-based Carter Center. He spoke to us by phone after visiting polling stations at schools, hospitals and other sites in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

“We were impressed by the turnout and the patience of voters who had been standing in the hot sun since 8:30 this morning in order to cast their votes at 3:30 p.m.,” he said. “In all the elections I’ve done for the Carter Center, I haven’t seen lines that long.”

Before the March 4 elections for president, legislators, governors and local offices, Kenyans were concerned about a repeat of the violence that engulfed the country after presidential elections in December 2007.

That winter, disputed election results sparked longstanding tensions among tribes, and more than 1,000 people died in the ensuing violence, which included the igniting of a church where people were hiding near Eldoret in western Kenya. NewsHour special correspondent Kira Kay recently returned to the area to see how its residents were faring:

“It’s hard to know whether or not people are motivated by fear or hope — I think by hope — but there is certainly a determination to move beyond the catastrophe of 2007,” said Stremlau.

This time, Kenyans had prepared for the nationwide vote by holding practice elections to help train workers, and implementing reforms aimed at making the election process more transparent.

Voter identification at polling sites included a new system of checking people’s fingerprints. And political parties were allowed to have two agents at each of the 33,000 polling sites to watch for any problems, said Stremlau.

Churches held prayer days and the business community offered the use of mediators in case of disagreements.

The candidates issued statements of support for whoever wins or loses. Polls leading up to the election showed a tight race between the two main candidates vying for President Mwai Kibaki’s seat: Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta is accused by the International Criminal Court of crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating the 2007-8 postelection violence.

The winner must have more than 50 percent of the vote, which might be difficult with eight candidates, so a runoff — if needed — would take place April 11 if there are no challenges, said Stremlau.

International election monitoring groups are announcing their findings on Wednesday, and “if we conclude [the election was] credible, then it raises the pressure on the contestants to accept the results,” he said. If there are any allegations of fraud, however, the Electoral Commission has pledged to investigate them.

The independent commission also promised to start posting preliminary election results a day or two after the vote, and final results within a week.

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