KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) - Calm returned to the western Kenyan stronghold of defeated presidential candidate Raila Odinga on Monday after two days of running battles with police following the Supreme Court’s confirmation of his rival Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect.
Two people were shot dead in the unrest, but the violence was on a much smaller scale than the nationwide bloodshed that followed the 2007 election when the western city of Kisumu was one of the places worst affected places by deadly riots.
This year there was little sign of any violence beyond Kisumu, which strongly backs Odinga, reflecting a desire by Kenyans to avoid a repeat of the bloodshed that badly damaged their economy, east Africa’s biggest, five years ago.
A busy bus station that had been deserted since the rioting began on Saturday was once again bustling as passengers scrambled to board minibuses as they disgorged dozens returning from rural areas where they had fled for fear of violence.
“Business is booming today. The demand has gone up and fares doubled since many are returning from home and others leaving for various places,” said Bonny Otieno, 32, transporter.
“Politics is over and we’ve embarked on nation building.”
Shops and houses were broken into and goods looted during the rioting. But attempts to set fire to some houses belonging to rival communities were thwarted by police. The regional police chief said the volatile situation had been contained.
Kenyatta is expected to be sworn in on April 9.
“So far we have arrested 23 culprits but the number could go up since we are pursuing more elements that broke into people’s properties and looted,” said police commander Joseph Ole Tito.
“During the violence we lost business forcing us to partially open our shops only when a customer approached. But today we have fully opened since peace has prevailed,” said Ishmael George, 26, a dealer in electronics. “We expect good sales since calm has returned.”
The comparatively peaceful election has helped restore Kenya’s image as one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
The Kisumu unrest appeared to reflect spontaneous anger by Odinga supporters, worried by the prospect of marginalization in a country where governments have traditionally rewarded their own ethnic support base with investment and new infrastructure.
Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s founding president whose family controls vast property and a business empire. But he promised in a televised address after the court ruling to work for all Kenyans, including those who challenged his election.
Kenyatta’s indictment by the International Criminal Court for allegedly organizing violent gangs after the least election will however complicate relations with Western states because of their policy of having only “essential contacts” with indictees.
But diplomats said there could be latitude in how to define that if Kenyatta and his deputy, who also faces charges of crimes against humanity, continue to cooperate with the court.
Along the coast, where Odinga also received strong support, peace prevailed, but the banned Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) called on Kenyatta to heed its demand for secession from Kenya. Nairobi has flatly rejected the call.
The MRC feeds off local discontent largely based on long-held grievances over land and frustration at the perceived economic marginalization of the coast by the central government.
Police have given MRC members seven days to give themselves up after blaming the group for a series of attacks in and around Mombasa, the country’s main port.
Additional reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Jon Hemming