Kenya Counts Votes as Peaceful Polling Follows Separatist Attack

Kenya began counting ballots from an election that drew a large turnout and proceeded peacefully across most of the country, after clashes blamed on a separatist group killed at least 14 people before polls opened.

The poll is the first since fraud allegations after a December 2007 vote spawned violence that killed 1,100 people and made 350,000 homeless over two months. Opinion polls showed Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, respectively the sons of Kenya’s first president and vice president, tied in the lead ahead of six challengers.

“The next 24 hours or so will be a very apprehensive time, and it may determine if people fight or not,” Emmanuel Kisiangani, an Institute for Security Studies researcher, said by phone from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. “We don’t expect violence because the electoral commission removed ghost voters from the rolls and there has been a semblance of order.”

The vote is seen as a test of stability for East Africa’s largest economy, which is the regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. Economic growth has attracted greater outside interest in the Nairobi Securities Exchange. Foreign investors traded almost half of all shares in 2012 compared with about 10 percent five years earlier.

The Nairobi All Share index has advanced 13 percent this year, the third-best performance in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and Ghana for dollar investors. The shilling appreciated 1.8 percent against the dollar last week, its strongest week in more than 14 months and the best-performing African currency. It traded down 0.1 percent at 86 shillings by 9 p.m. in Nairobi.

High Turnout

The election drew a “high” turnout from the 14.3 million registered voters, Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission Chief Executive Officer James Oswago told reporters yesterday, without giving a specific figure. Confusion over voter records caused delays and long lines at some polling stations, while people in some areas had to wait longer to cast ballots after polls officially closed at 5 p.m., he said.

It was not clear if the three attacks in the Coast Province blamed on the separatist Mombasa Republican Council were related to the ballot, Kisiangani said.

Eight Kenyan security officers died and six members of the group, which called for an election boycott and wants part of the coast to secede from Kenya, died, according to Police Inspector-General David Kimaiyo.

Scions’ Contest

Kenyatta, the 51-year-old son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, is facing trial at the International Criminal Court for orchestrating violence during the last elections. He is running along with his one-time political rival William Ruto, a former Cabinet minister who has also been indicted by the Hague-based ICC. Both deny the charges.

Odinga, 68 and the son of Kenya’s first vice-president, was defeated in 1997 and 2007, when he accused President Mwai Kibaki of stealing the vote.

The manifestos of both candidates show little difference in policy. They have pledged to increase investment in building infrastructure and developing agriculture to help accelerate economic growth and cut poverty.

Kenya, ranked a low-income nation by the World Bank, is the world’s largest exporter of black tea and supplies a third of the flowers traded in Europe. It may also become an oil producer after Tullow Oil Plc last year found the country’s first crude deposits, which it’s now testing for financial viability.

Materially Indifferent

“We do not expect any materially different market implications, as the flag-bearers of both leading coalitions are successful businessmen in their own rights,” Michael Kafe, a pan-African economist at Morgan Stanley in Johannesburg, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The independence of the Central Bank of Kenya and Ministry of Finance should be preserved under either candidate’s government.”

Kenyatta’s family controls land holdings, Brookside Dairy Ltd., which also has units in Tanzania and Uganda, and has stakes in the K24 television station, banking and other companies, according to Forbes magazine. Odinga’s family owns East African Spectre, a Nairobi-based gas cylinder manufacturer, and a Kisumu molasses plant.

Kenya’s economy is expected to grow by as much as 6 percent this year, from an estimated 5 percent last year, as long as the elections go smoothly and produce no serious violence, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Besides Kibaki’s replacement, voters chose 290 lawmakers as well as governors, women’s representatives and senators for 47 counties and 1,450 delegates for county assemblies. Kibaki, 81, is retiring after serving his two-term constitutional limit.

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