Kenya hails first vaccine ‘bazookas,’ Rwanda secures Pfizer shots

By Omar Mohammed and Clement Uwiringiyimana

NAIROBI/KIGALI (Reuters) – Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, while Rwanda said it was the first in Africa to secure shots from Pfizer, as efforts to inoculate the world’s poorest nations accelerated.

With fewer resources and tougher logistics than other regions, African nations are racing to secure the doses needed to protect their roughly 1.3 billion people and allow the safe reopening of economies.

Africa has been relatively lightly hit by the coronavirus compared with other regions, recording 104,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally. That is lower than national tolls in the United States, India, Brazil, Russia and Britain.

Kenya’s batch, which arrived on a Qatar Airways passenger flight, is the first of an initial allocation of 3.56 million doses by the global COVAX facility.

“We have received … machine guns, bazookas, and tanks to fight this war against COVID-19,” Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe exulted as the doses arrived at Nairobi’s main airport.

COVAX, which is led by the GAVI vaccines alliance along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, aims to deliver over 1.3 billion doses to 92 lower- and middle-income countries, covering up to 20% of their populations.

Backers of the initiative hope to level a playing field that has seen wealthier nations quickly vaccinate millions, ahead of poorer regions. Only a few African nations have started inoculating citizens with vaccines acquired outside of COVAX.

First shots under COVAX are arriving at several African nations this week, including Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.

Senegal, which received 200,000 doses developed by China’s Sinopharm last month, got an additional 324,000 shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday, via COVAX.

COLD STORAGE

In Kigali, officials said Rwanda will get the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 shots to be dispatched to Africa under the vaccine-sharing scheme. The Pfizer vaccine presents an extra logistical challenge because it requires ultra-cold storage.

The batch of 102,960 doses were due in Kigali on Wednesday, hours after a flight landed carrying 240,000 AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute of India, the health ministry said. The government has installed special infrastructure to keep the vaccine at -70 degrees.

“Rwanda is one of the first countries among the low income countries to have ultra-cold chain,” said Fode Ndiaye, the United Nations’ resident coordinator.

Rwanda plans to start its vaccination drive on Friday, prioritizing frontline health workers and others at high risk. It hopes to vaccinate 30% of its roughly 12 million people before the end of this year.

Despite Africa’s comparatively low fatalities, fragile economies across the continent are reeling from lockdowns.

Kenya, which has so far recorded 106,470 infections and 1,863 deaths, has taken a major economic hit from the virus, which cut the flow of tourists, a crucial source of foreign exchange and jobs.

Nairobi plans to prioritize 400,000 health workers nationwide in a vaccination campaign starting on Friday, the health ministry said.

It will join Ivory Coast, Ghana and South Africa among the nations in sub-Saharan Africa to start vaccination drives.

(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Farmers fight back: Making animal feed from a locust plague

By Baz Ratner

LAIKIPIA (Reuters) – Kenya is battling some of the worst locust plagues in decades, but start-up The Bug Picture hopes to transform the pests into profits and bring “hope to the hopeless” whose crops and livelihoods are being destroyed by the insects.

Unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for surging locust numbers, which have destroyed crops and grazing grounds across East Africa and the Horn.

Scientists say warmer seas are creating more rain, waking dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.

The Bug Picture is working with communities around the area of Laikipia, Isiolo and Samburu in central Kenya to harvest the insects and mill them, turning them into protein-rich animal feed and organic fertilizer for farms.

“We are trying to create hope in a hopeless situation, and help these communities alter their perspective to see these insects as a seasonal crop that can be harvested and sold for money,” said Laura Stanford, founder of The Bug Picture.

In central Kenya’s Laikipia, clouds of locusts are devouring crops and other vegetation. The Bug Picture is targeting swarms of 5 hectares or less in inhabited areas not suitable for spraying.

Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and can contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer.

“They destroy all the crops when they get into the farms. Sometimes they are so many, you cannot tell them apart, which are crops and which are locusts,” said farmer Joseph Mejia.

The Bug Picture pays Mejia and his neighbors 50 Kenyan shillings ($0.4566) per kilogram of the insects. Between Feb. 1-18, the project oversaw the harvest of 1.3 tons of locusts, according to Stanford, who said she was inspired by a project in Pakistan, overseen by the state-run Pakistan Agricultural Research Council.

The locusts are collected at night by torchlight when they are resting on shrubs and trees.

“The community … are collecting locusts, once they (are collected) they are weighed and paid,” said Albert Lemasulani, a field coordinator with the start-up.

The insects are crushed and dried, then milled and processed into powder, which is used in animal feed or an organic fertilizer.

(Reporting by Baz Ratner; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Pandemic pace slows worldwide except for southeast Asia, eastern Mediterranean: WHO

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic is still expanding, but the rise in cases and deaths has slowed globally, except for southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean regions, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

In its latest epidemiological update, issued on Monday night, it said that the Americas remains the hardest-hit region, accounting for half of newly reported cases and 62% of the 39,240 deaths worldwide in the past week.

More than 23.65 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 811,895​ have died, according to a Reuters tally on Tuesday.

“Over 1.7 million new COVID-19 cases and 39,000 new deaths were reported to WHO for the week ending 23 August, a 4% decrease in the number of cases and (a 12% decrease) in the number of deaths compared to the previous week,” the WHO said.

Southeast Asia, the second most affected region, reported a jump accounting for 28% of new cases and 15% of deaths, it said. India continues to report the majority of cases, but the virus is also spreading rapidly in Nepal.

In WHO’s eastern Mediterranean region, the number of reported cases rose by 4%, but the number of reported deaths has consistently dropped over the last six weeks, the WHO said. Lebanon, Tunisia and Jordan reported the highest increase in cases compared to the previous week.

The number of cases and deaths reported across Africa decreased by 8% and 11% respectively in the past week, “primarily due to a decrease in cases reported in Algeria, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa”, it said.

“In the European region, the number of cases reported has consistently increased over the last three weeks,” it said. “However, only a slight decrease (1%) was reported in the most recent week, and the number of deaths have continued to decrease across the region.”

In WHO’s western Pacific region, the number of new cases dropped by 5%, driven by less spread in Japan, Australia, Singapore, China and Vietnam. South Korea reported an 180% jump in cases, “mainly due to an increase in cases associated with religious gatherings”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Giles Elgood)

No water! No fear! Kenya’s community leaders step up to coronavirus challenge

By Katharine Houreld

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Few residents in Nairobi’s sprawling informal settlement of Kibera have access to running water to wash their hands – but most have heard of a deadly new disease killing off people in China and Europe.

Although the disease was slow to hit Africa, more than 30 countries now have cases of the coronavirus – Kenya has seven. So concerned residents in neighbourhoods neglected by Kenya’s notoriously corrupt government are setting up handwashing stations and organising teams of volunteers to educate people about the disease.

“We can’t sit pretty in our houses knowing that tomorrow we may have a crisis beyond our control,” said Ed Gachuna, the chief finance officer of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), an organisation set up by Kennedy Odede, who was born and brought up in Kibera.

Community-led initiatives like SHOFCO’s coronavirus drive are far more likely to win compliance from residents than edicts from a government noted only for its neglect – an important lesson learned from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014 and in Congo last year.

Kibera, home to more than half a million people, has little government presence bar an occasional policeman. There are no formal water connections. Residents illegally tap government lines using rubber hoses that leak into open sewers. Police cut them when they find them, said Gachuna, leaving the area waterless for days at a time.

But SHOFCO runs schools, clinics and a network of drinking water points linked by aerial pipes suspended far above the rubbish-strewn alleys, keeping the water clean. SHOFCO’s purification plant provides Kibera residents drinking water at heavily subsidised rates – 2 shillings (2 cents) for 20 litres.

On Wednesday, crowds of volunteers – some wearing T-shirts emblazoned “Fighting Coronavirus” – gathered at the SHOFCO offices, listening to a talk about symptoms and prevention before disappearing down the narrow alleys.

A friend of one volunteer approached, hand out to greet her, but the woman recoiled dramatically, shouting “Nooooooo – coroonaaaaaavirrrrrrus!” to peals of laughter from both women and appreciative cheers from children. The women put their hands on their hearts instead.

Behind them, young men tied large plastic drums and boxes of soap onto perilously tilting motorbikes to set up the first wave of 24 SHOFCO handwashing stations. Keeping the disease at bay is their only hope.

Many families here cluster into single-room shacks; few here have the space to isolate, or the luxury of working from home. Few can stockpile food either – most work daily jobs that earn a couple of dollars a day. The markets are busy and greetings enthusiastic.

“Africans love greetings and physical contact,” explained auditor Emmanuel Olima, shaking drops of water from his hands and one of the new handwashing stations. “So even if you hide your hands, you might not avoid a handshake.”

The stations are staffed by volunteers like 24-year-old Judy Adhiambo, whose dimpled smile greets each passerby as she tells them the symptoms of the disease and how to prevent it. Children squeal with delight at the water and suds, but the adults listen.

“Rub between the fingers very well,” Adhiambo advises a young boy washing his hands with his mother.

“Asante,” the woman says quietly as they leave – thank you.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

Running out of time: East Africa faces new locust threat

By Omar Mohammed and Dawit Endeshaw

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Countries in East Africa are racing against time to prevent new swarms of locusts wreaking havoc with crops and livelihoods after the worst infestation in generations.

A lack of expertise in controlling the pests is not their only problem: Kenya temporarily ran out of pesticides, Ethiopia needs more planes and Somalia and Yemen, torn by civil war, can’t guarantee exterminators’ safety.

Locust swarms have been recorded in the region since biblical times, but unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for insect numbers to surge, scientists say.

Warmer seas are creating more rain, wakening dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.

In Ethiopia the locusts have reached the fertile Rift Valley farmland and stripped grazing grounds in Kenya and Somalia. Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer.

If left unchecked, the number of locusts in East Africa could explode 400-fold by June. That would devastate harvests in a region with more than 19 million hungry people, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

Uganda has deployed the military. Kenya has trained hundreds of youth cadets to spray. Lacking pesticides, some security forces in Somalia have shot anti-aircraft guns at swarms darkening the skies.

Everyone is racing the rains expected in March: the next generation of larvae is already wriggling from the ground, just as farmers plant their seeds.

“The second wave is coming,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s head of resilience for Eastern Africa. “As crops are planted, locusts will eat everything.”

The impact so far on agriculture, which generates about a third of East Africa’s economic output, is unknown, but FAO is using satellite images to assess the damage, he said.

FILE PHOTO: A swarm of desert locusts flies over a ranch near the town on Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

PESTICIDE SHORTAGES

In Kenya, the region’s wealthiest and most stable country, the locusts are mostly in the semi-arid north, although some crops have been affected, said Stanley Kipkoech, a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture.

This month, Kenya ran out of pesticide for about a week and a half, he said. Farmers watched helplessly as their families’ crops were devoured.

In Ethiopia, the government can only afford to rent four planes for aerial spraying, but it needs at least twice that number to contain the outbreak before harvesting begins in March, Zebdewos Salato, director of plant protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, told Reuters.

“We are running out of time,” he said.

Ethiopia’s single pesticide factory is working flat out.

The country needs 500,000 liters for the upcoming harvest and planting season but is struggling to produce its maximum 200,000 liters after foreign exchange shortages delayed the purchase of chemicals, the factory’s chief executive Simeneh Altaye said.

FAO is helping the government to procure planes, vehicles and sprayers, said Fatouma Seid, the agency’s representative in Ethiopia. It is also urgently trying to buy pesticides from Europe.

MONEY AND GUNS

Pest controllers in Somalia can’t enter areas controlled by the Islamist al Shabaab insurgency, said Aidid Suleiman Hashi, environment minister for the southern region of Jubbaland.

When the locusts invaded, residents blew horns, beat drums and rang bells to scare away the insects. Al Shabaab fired anti-craft and machine guns at the swarms, Hashi said. Jubbaland forces, not to be outdone, did so too.

Under such circumstances, contractors are reluctant to do aerial spraying, FAO said.

Meanwhile, locusts – which have a life cycle of three months – are breeding. FAO says each generation is an average of 20 times more numerous.

When eggs hatch, as they are doing now in northern Kenya, the hungry young locusts are earthbound for two weeks and more vulnerable to spraying than when they grow wings.

After that, they take to the air in swarms so dense they have forced aircraft to divert. A single square kilometer swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people.

FAO said containing the plague will cost at least $138 million. So far, donors have pledged $52 million. Failure means more hunger in a region already battered by conflict and climate shocks.

Since 2016, there have been droughts in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, then floods, Ferrand said. In South Sudan, more than half the population already faces food shortages.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The rains that blessed the region with a bumper crop last year after a prolonged drought also brought a curse.

A cyclical weather pattern in the Indian Ocean, intensified by rising sea temperatures, contributed to one of the wettest October-December rainy seasons in five decades, said Nathanial Matthews of the Stockholm-based Global Resilience Partnership, a public-private partnership focused on climate change.

Locusts hatched in Yemen, largely ignored in the chaos of the civil war. They migrated across the Red Sea to the Horn of Africa, then spread to Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Now they have been spotted in Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania.

The rains awoke the dormant eggs then stronger and more numerous cyclones scattered the insects. Eight cyclones tore across the Indian Ocean in 2019, the highest number in a single year since records began, said Matthews.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Abdiqani Hassan in Garowe, Somalia, Denis Dumo in Juba; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Alexandra Zavis and Mike Collett-White)

African locust invasion deepens hunger crisis for Horn of Africa

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Death toll from Kenya landslides rises to 56 as heavy rains lash country’s north west

People walk in the mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

 

MOMBASA (Reuters) – The death toll from landslides in northwestern Kenya triggered on Saturday by unusually heavy rains has risen to at least 56 people, a local official said.

The downpour began on Friday in West Pokot County, which borders Uganda, and worsened overnight, causing flooding and mudslides that swept away four bridges and left villages inaccessible by road.

Samuel Poghisio, a senator from the county, told Reuters by phone on Sunday that 56 people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were missing. By Saturday afternoon, local officials had reported 36 dead.

“Rescue operations are frustrated by more rain and fog,” Poghisio wrote in a text message, adding that police helicopters were struggling to reach the flooded areas.

Kenya’s president on Saturday deployed rescue personnel from agencies including the army and the police to try and prevent the “further loss of lives”.

Houses are seen covered by mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

Researchers have warned that warming oceans are causing unpredictable weather patterns in East Africa.

Heavy rains and floods have killed more than 50 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the region since October, aid groups said earlier this month.

Kenya is experiencing a heavier than usual rainy season, the Kenya Meteorological Department said in early November.

(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Kenyan rose-farm dam bursts, ‘sea of water’ kills 47

An aerial view of rescue efforts near destroyed houses by flooding water after a dam burst, in Solio town near Nakuru, Kenya May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

By Thomas Mukoya

SOLAI, Kenya (Reuters) – A dam on a commercial flower farm in Kenya’s Rift Valley burst after weeks of torrential rain, unleashing a “sea of water” that careered down a hillside and smashed into two villages, killing at least 47 people.

The walls of the reservoir, on top of a hill in Nakuru county, 190 km (120 miles) northwest of Nairobi, gave way late on Wednesday as nearby residents were sitting down to evening meals.

Kenya is one of the largest suppliers of cut flowers to Europe, and roses from the 3,500-acre Solai farm are exported to the Netherlands and Germany, according to Optimal Connection, its Netherlands-based handling agent.

The floodwaters carved out a dark brown chasm in the hillside and swept away everything in their path – powerlines, homes and buildings, including a primary school.

The bodies of two women were found several kilometers away as excavators and rescue workers armed with shovels picked through rubble and mud searching for survivors and victims.

Local police chief Japheth Kioko said the death toll could climb. “So far it is 47 dead. We are still on the ground,” he told Reuters.

After a severe drought last year, East Africa has been hit by two months of heavy rain, affecting nearly a million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda. Bridges have been swept away and roads turned into rivers of mud.

In Solai, Veronica Wanjiku Ngigi, 67, said she was at home brewing tea with her son at around 8 pm (1700 GMT) when his wife rushed in to say the dam had burst and they needed to get to higher ground immediately.

“It was a sea of water. My neighbor was killed when the water smashed through the wall of his house. He was blind so he could not run. They found his body in the morning,” she said. “My other neighbors also died. All our houses have been ruined.”

BOULDERS, ROOTS

Nakuru lies in the heart of Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley, home to thousands of commercial farms that grow everything from French beans to macadamia nuts to cut flowers, nearly all of which are exported to Europe.

The region is dotted with irrigation reservoirs built in the last two decades to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding agricultural sector, the biggest foreign exchange earner for East Africa’s largest economy and a major source of jobs.

Vinoj Kumar, general manager of the Solai farm, blamed the disaster on massive rainfall in a forest above the dam.

“In the past two days the intensity of the rain was high and the water started coming down carrying boulders and roots which damaged the wall,” he told Reuters. “The dam wall cracked and the water escaped.”

Nakuru governor Lee Kinyanjui said 450 homes had been hit by the floodwaters and safety engineers had been sent to inspect three other dams to check for cracks or breaches.

Wanjiku, the survivor, said at least one looked like it was ready to burst. “There is another dam which is also overflowing which is looking risky,” she said. “We are scared.”

One primary school had been closed as a precaution, education officials said. Arriving at the scene, Interior Minister Fred Matiangi pledged central government assistance to those affected.

To date, heavy rains have caused havoc in Kenya, killing 158 people and displacing 299,859, according to the government and Kenya Red Cross. Roads and bridges have been destroyed, causing millions of dollars of damage.

The United Nations UNOCHA disaster agency said 580,000 people had been affected by torrential rain and flooding in neighboring Somalia, while the Somali region of eastern Ethiopia had also taken a hammering, with 160,000 people affected.

The flooding could yet get worse, with heavy rains forecast to continue in the Rift Valley and the Lake Victoria basin over the next few weeks.

(Reporting by Thomas Mukoya, George Obulutsa, Duncan Miriri, Humphrey Malalo and Maggie Fick; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

In Kenya election re-run, polling incomplete and next steps uncertain

Anti riot police are deployed to disperse rioters in Kawangware slums in Nairobi, Kenya October 27, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

By Maggie Fick

KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) – Kenyans who boycotted a repeat presidential election voiced relief on Saturday after authorities indefinitely delayed further attempts to hold the vote in some opposition areas due to the risk of violence.

But while the election board’s decision stemmed the prospect of more clashes, it also pushed to the fore a new question: can President Uhuru Kenyatta be declared winner of a vote in which ballots were not cast in more than 20 of Kenya’s 290 constituencies?

Two days after polling in the rest of the country, voting had been due to take place in four counties where residents blocked roads and clashed with police as part of an opposition boycott. The board ditched the plan late on Friday.

“I’m happy because we need peace, we are tired of being brutally killed by the police,” said Henry Kahango, a father of three, in the western city of Kisumu.

Police officials have said repeatedly that their response to the political unrest is proportionate.

Kenyatta has won more than 97 percent of votes counted so far, according to a local media tally. But with turnout estimated below 35 percent and the country deeply divided, his hopes for a decisive mandate to lead east Africa’s richest economy have been quashed. [nL8N1N23QS]

Opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the contest, a rerun called after August’s election was annulled by the Supreme Court over procedural irregularities. He said the contest against Kenyatta was not going to be fair.

Odinga won 44.7 percent of the vote then, on a turnout of nearly 80 percent. In Thursday’s vote, Kenyatta faced six minor candidates, none of whom won more than 1 percent in August.

Deputy president William Ruto, Kenyatta’s running mate sought on Saturday to declare victory and discount the opposition: “Evidently it doesn’t matter how powerful/popular one or their party imagines to be, the repeat elections confirm the PEOPLE ARE SUPREME,” he tweeted.

LEGAL CHALLENGE

The first legal challenge came less than 24 hours after Thursday’s vote, when an activist filed a case seeking to nullify the election, which the opposition rejected as a “sham”.

Neither of the two main parties, nor the election board had any appearances scheduled on Saturday, leaving the country waiting for the next step as the votes are counted.

If the expected legal challenges fail to clear a path out of the crisis, including a possible order for another rerun, the result will be the continuation of a protracted and economically damaging stalemate between the Kenyatta and Odinga camps.

The electoral saga is polarizing the nation and slowing growth in what has been one of Africa’s most vibrant economies, as well as a regional trade hub and a powerful security ally for Western nations. A decade ago, 1,200 Kenyans were killed in violence after a disputed poll.

In Odinga strongholds, such as Kisumu, residents had defiantly blocked roads, clashed with police, and intimidated election officials to prevent voting on Thursday.

They accused authorities of trying to “force” participation.

“This is pure oppression,” said Hassan Hussein, a Muslim community leader. “The law says if you want to vote, you vote, if not, you don’t.”

In a statement on Saturday, the IEBC election board condemned what it said was harassment by a member of parliament on “an IEBC official performing his duties” after a video went viral on social media, further stirring anger online.

The MP, Alice Wahome, who is a member of the ruling Jubilee party’s coalition, told Kenya’s Standard newspaper the returning officer had refused to sign off the necessary paperwork and was seeking to leave, having “snatched the forms from other agents”.

Anger at police is flaring in opposition areas in western counties, Nairobi slums and the coastal city of Mombasa.

“People from this region are feeling isolated from the rest of the country,” said Eric Chitayi, a security guard in Kisumu. “We are feeling disconnected.”

Pastor Fred Olando from Kisumu, describing how water cannon trucks and anti-riot police had been patrolling day and night in his neighborhood: “We fear this government and these police.”

Violence has killed at least five people since Thursday’s vote. People died from gunshot wounds and beatings by police, according to hospital staff.

In the aftermath of the August election, at least 45 people died during a police crackdown on opposition supporters, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

On Friday evening in the Nairobi slum of Kawangware, a Reuters witness saw nearly 100 youths armed with machetes in red T-shirts – the color of the ruling party – as a group of opposition supporters clashed with police.

In the western town of Migori, another scene of clashes, a local journalist said police assaulted him on Saturday morning. “They removed me from my home, I produced my press card, and they slapped me and beat me with a baton,” said Caleb Kingwara, a photographer for Kenya’s Standard newspaper.

The European Union said in a statement: “It is imperative that the security forces provide protection to all citizens and avoid the excessive use of force.”

Map of election-related deaths immediately following the Aug. 8 polls: http://tmsnrt.rs/2lajbuV

A timeline of political events: http://tmsnrt.rs/2lblWfn

Chart of results showing official results from last three elections: http://tmsnrt.rs/2hVLgV3

Interactive election graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2fbG3Yg

(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Editing by Alison Williams)

Shooting, tear gas, bonfires mar Kenya election re-run

Shooting, tear gas, bonfires mar Kenya election re-run

By Maggie Fick

KISUMU, Kenya (Reuters) – Kenyan opposition supporters clashed with police and threw up burning barricades on Thursday, seeking to derail an election rerun likely to return Uhuru Kenyatta as president of East Africa’s chief economic and political powerhouse.

In the western city of Kisumu, stone-throwing youths heeding opposition leader Raila Odinga’s call for a voter boycott were met by live rounds, tear gas and water cannon. Gunfire killed one protester and wounded three others, a nurse said. Reuters found no polling stations open there.

Riot police fired tear gas in Kibera and Mathare, two volatile Nairobi slums. Protesters set fires in Kibera early in the morning and in Mathara a church was firebombed and a voter attacked.

Around 50 people have been killed, mostly by security forces, since the original Aug. 8 vote. The Supreme Court annulled Kenyatta’s win in that poll on procedural grounds and ordered fresh elections within 60 days, but Odinga called for a boycott amid concerns the poll would not be free and fair.

The repeat election is being closely watched across East Africa, which relies on Kenya as a trade and logistics hub, and in the West, which considers Nairobi a bulwark against Islamist militancy in Somalia and civil conflict in South Sudan and Burundi.

While tensions simmered in opposition strongholds, other areas were calm. In the capital, polling stations saw a sprinkling of voters instead of the hours-long queues that waited in August.

Interior minister Fred Matiang’i told Citizen TV that polling stations opened in 90 percent of the country, including Kiambu, where Kenyatta cast his ballot.

“We are requesting them (voters) humbly that they should turn out in large numbers,” Kenyatta, the U.S.-educated son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, said after voting. “We’re tired as a country of electioneering and I think it’s time to move forward.”

A decade after 1,200 people were killed over another disputed election, many Kenyans feared violence could spread.

If some counties fail to hold elections, it could trigger legal challenges to the election, stirring longer-term instability and ethnic divisions.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court was due to hear a case seeking to delay the polls. But it was unable to sit after five out of the seven judges failed to show up, fuelling suspicions among opposition supporters.

“The lack of a quorum is highly unusual for a Supreme Court hearing,” a statement from the European Union said. “Not hearing this case has de facto cut off the legal path for remedy.”

In a statement issued by the U.S. embassy, foreign missions said the vote had damaged regional stability and urged “open and transparent dialogue involving all Kenyans to resolve the deep divisions that the electoral process has exacerbated.”

OPPOSITION STRONGHOLDS

In Kisumu, the scene of major ethnic violence after a disputed election in 2007, many schools designated as polling stations were padlocked. Young men milled about outside.

In Kisumu Central, constituency returning officer John Ngutai said no voting materials had been distributed and only three of his 400 staff had turned up. One nervous official said his election work was a “suicide mission”.

Kisumu businessman Joshua Nyamori, 42, was one of the few voters brave enough to defy Odinga’s stay-away call but could not cast his ballot.

“Residents fear reprisal from political gangs organized by politicians. This is wrong,” he said.

In the coastal city of Mombasa, protesters lit tyres and timber along the main highway. Some polling stations had not opened by 8am, and those that did had low turnout and four armed police on guard – double the number on duty last time.

“We are not staying home. We are protesting and ensuring there is no voting around this area,” said Babangida Tumbo, 31.

CALL FOR PRAYERS

On the eve of the vote Odinga, backed off previous calls for protests and urged supporters to stay home.

“We advise Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigils and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home,” he said in English.

But speakers who preceded him urged in the KiSwahili language that supporters should ensure the vote did not take place.

Odinga’s National Super Alliance coalition, whose supporters attacked polling staff in the run-up to the vote, could argue in court that the lack of open polling stations shows that the re-run is bogus. The Supreme Court said it would annul this election too if it did not meet legal standards.

The head of the election commission said last week he could not guarantee a free and fair vote, citing political interference and threats of violence against his colleagues. One election commissioner quit and fled the country.

Kenya’s Election Observation Group, a coalition of civil society organizations, said an observer in Mombasa had been beaten up and one in Kibera prevented from leaving the house.

They did not send observers to western Kenya over security fears, they said, but in other places 80 percent of the 766 polling stations they were observing opened on time.

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld, Duncan Miriri, David Lewis and John Ndiso in Nairobi and Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Ralph Boulton)