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Hope and excitement in the hometowns of the Kenyan President’s favourites

#Hope #excitement #hometowns #Kenyan #Presidents #favourites

On the eve of Kenya’s general election, yellow banners drape William Ruto’s bastion of Eldoret, where voters are quietly optimistic their hometown hero will be the next president after a tough contest.

About 90 kilometers away not a single Ruto banner is flying in Kisumu, the stronghold of his opponent Raila Odinga, whose victory in the lake town is considered by many to be a foregone conclusion.

Eldoret and Kisumu have historically been hotbeds of electoral violence, and Tuesday’s election is too close to call, raising fears of similar civil unrest.

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

The Rift Valley’s largest city has been painted yellow, and the ubiquitous presence of wheelbarrows – the symbol of Ruto’s United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party – serves as a stark reminder of Eldoret’s loyalty.

But along a busy intersection, dozens of Odinga supporters rallied freely alongside a group of Ruto fans at a so-called “bunge la mwananchi,” or “citizens’ parliament.”

“In previous elections, it wasn’t possible for two groups to support two different candidates so close together,” said Alfred Ekale, a 38-year-old security guard and Ruto supporter.

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

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

– ‘Time for Party’ –

In the southwest, in sunny Kisumu, a carnival-like atmosphere built as the hours ticked by until Voting Day.

Motorbikes sped back and forth, riders blaring vuvuzela horns for Odinga, a political titan in the western regions around Lake Victoria affectionately known as “Baba” (Father).

Odinga – like his father before him – fought from the opposition trenches against Kenya’s ruler, ran unsuccessfully in four presidential elections he claimed were rigged, and spent years in prison as a political prisoner.

Now that the ruling party is backing his candidacy, many in Kisumu see victory as a given this time around – going so far as to call Odinga the “president-in-waiting”.

“We’re expecting a big celebration because we know the person who’s going to win the election. The people of Kisumu are ready,” said Abdallah Abuga, a motorcycle taxi driver in the city center.

“Raila Amolo Odinga will win.”

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

“We’ve always been marginalized. Kisumu was always the opposition,” said Amos Owino, a 31-year-old accountant who claimed he was overlooked at Jobs because he was Luo.

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

– ‘All is calm’ –

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

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

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

Additional security forces have been deployed to Eldoret, with the town – along with Kisumu – identified by legal observers as possible hotspots for violence.

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

In Kisumu – where police have used water cannon, tear gas and live rounds against voters in past elections – the conspicuous absence of boots on the ground is another good omen this time.

“Your people are always nearby. But now there are no police here, everything is quiet… this showed once again that it will be a fair election,” Owino said.

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