NAIROBI (Reuters) - It had all the trappings of a proper polling station - ballot-boxes, pots of indelible ink, registration lists and a dozen election officials dutifully seated behind school desks. The only things missing were the voters.
In Nairobi’s Kibera slum, a hot-bed of support for veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, many young men failed to heed his call for a peaceful stay-away from Thursday’s election, a re-run of an August presidential vote annulled by the courts.
After opening six hours late because of a lack of security, the polling station at Kibera’s Olympic Primary School came under attack from stone-throwing youths determined to ward off any voters.
Police at the gates responded with volleys of tear gas followed by live rounds, sending gangs of youths chanting slogans against President Uhuru Kenyatta scurrying for cover in the warren of streets and tin-shacks next to the school walls.
Riot officers then sealed off the area, making it impossible for even residents to get through, let alone would-be voters prepared to run the gauntlet of pro-Odinga peer pressure.
“I don’t want to vote. I just want to go to my home,” said 24-year-old Kevin Ouma-Sigiria, after being turned back by armed riot police blocking the rubble-strewn road 500 metres (1500 feet) from the school.
As he spoke, another man tried to talk his way through the road-block, only to receive a prod in the chest from a wooden club, followed by a nonchalant whack around the ankles.
“There is a crisis up there,” one of the riot officers, who idenitified himself only as Kevin, said. “If they come one-by-one, that’s OK. But if they gather again, the crisis will get bigger.”
“BAD FOR THEIR HEALTH”
Moments later, 35-year-old Said Mohammed scurried down the street in the opposite direction with his wife and three small children to pack them off to relatives living up-country.
“It’s not good for their health,” he said, clutching his children’s hands as the pop of exloding tear-gas grenades echoed across the tin roof-tops.
Other opposition strongholds in western Kenya saw similar unrest, causing the election commission to postpone voting there until the weekend - although there is little prospect of a 48-hour delay yielding a different outcome.
In Kibera, polling station staff should have slept overnight at the Olympic school but were unable to do so because of fear of being attacked. As it was, they arrived under armed escort at 10am - four hours after voting was meant to start.
The ballot boxes, also escorted by a heavily armed police contingent, arrived an hour after that - not that there was any chance of them being used.
“Nobody is going to vote here today,” said Olympic deputy presiding officer Jaqueline Onuko, blithely tucking into a sandwich as rocks clanged against the metal roof of the classroom-cum-polling station.
“The first time around was very busy...They were here queueing at 3 in the morning. Now nobody is going to come. They are scared of both the police and their neighbors.”
Reporting by Ed Cropley; editing by Ralph Boulton