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The World Is Watching With Bated Breath as Kenya Takes to the Polls

Flickr/Heinrich-Boll_Stiftung

Leaders from Kenya and the international community have appealed for calm and unity as the country went to the polls for its general election today. 

Tension has been building in the days leading up to the election, with concerns over a repeat of the deadly violence of 10 years ago. 

More than 1,100 Kenyans died in rioting and 600,000 people were displaced after a 2007 election result that was disputed.

No one wants a repeat of the events that tipped the country into its worst crisis in decades. 

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Today’s election is primarily a race between current President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main rival Raila Odinga, who have been competing against each other for years and whose fathers were also political rivals in the 1960s. 

“To my competitors, as I have always said, in the event that they lose, let us accept the will of the people. I am willing, myself, to accept the will of the people,” said Kenyatta, as he voted in his hometown of Gatundu, north of Nairobi. 

“Let us pull this country together and let us move forward as one nation.” 

Kenyans have been anxiously awaiting this election. Some have stockpiled food and water, according to the BBC, while police have prepared emergency first aid kits. 

Bus stations have also been busier than usual in major cities, according to the Guardian, as people leave for more provincial areas which are thought to be safer. 

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Meanwhile, an estimated 180,000 police officers and members of other security forces have been deployed around Kenya. 

Fears increased last week, following news that a senior election official who played a key role in developing Kenya’s new electronic ballot and voter registration systems had been tortured and murdered.

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Former US President Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, has also called for calm. 

“In Kenya’s election we have already seen too much incitement and appeals based on fear from all sides,” he said. 

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“But I also know that the Kenyan people as a whole will be the losers if there is a descent into violence. You can make clear that you will reject those that want to deal in tribal and ethnic hatred.”

He added: “The choices you make in the coming days can either set Kenya back or bring it together. As a friend of the Kenyan people, I urge you to work for a future defined not by fear and division, but by unity and hope.” 

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Queues formed at polling stations before dawn today, with some minor stampedes being reported. 

First results aren’t expected before Wednesday, but it could take three days for a winner to emerge, according to the BBC.

To win outright, a candidate needs more than 50% of the vote, and at least 25% in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties. If no one achieves that, a runoff vote will be triggered, between the top two candidates.