The US embassy in Nairobi has issued a travel advisory cautioning citizens against traveling to the western lake-side city of Kisumu, the hometown of presidential aspirant Raila Odinga.
Just a day after Meg Whitman, the 18th US ambassador to Kenya reported to office, the embassy is asking its staff to be on the look out, reiterating that Kenya has “periodically experienced some pre-electoral violence during election cycles,” and violent demonstrations requiring police intervention.
With elections less than a week away, the embassy has asked US citizens to avoid crowds, keep a low profile and be vigilant when visiting banks or ATMs.
The advisory has raised eyebrows across social media platforms in Kenya, with many citizens wondering why vigilance should only be observed in a particular city. Some are speculating that the government has sent heavy security to the riftvalley counties, the backyard of Odinga’s closest competitor William Ruto leaving Kisumu city unsecured.
There’s worry that the embassy is creating unnecessary fear and tension in Kisumu which could lead to business inactivity till elections are over. But some also worry too that the Kisumu alert says something about who the US expects to win or lose the elections.
Kenya has a history of voting along ethnic lines, and Ruto’s supporters say the advisory means Odinga will lose. Odinga’s supporters on the other hand translated it to mean that Kisumu will break into rowdy celebrations after Odinga’s win.
One tweet in response to the statement reads, “We told you baba [Odinga] is losing this thing, send more cops to Kisumu and not Eldoret lol.”
Another response reads, “Translation: US Embassy analysts in Nairobi are projecting a Ruto victory. Wrong projection I’m afraid 🇰🇪.”
Another reads, “They are referring to the likelihood of wild celebrations which may turn rowdy in Raila strongholds. The spin doctors are working overtime.”
A report by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) released in May indicated that the country’s potential for election-related violence was 53%. Six counties were identified as hotspots for probable violence with Nairobi leading at 80%, followed by Nakuru (76%), Kericho (75%), Kisumu (72.4%), Uasin Gishu (72.2%) and Mombasa (71%).
Kisumu and Mombasa are Odinga’s voting blocks while Nakuru, Kericho and Uasin Gishu are Ruto’s. These are the same towns that were hardest hit by the 2007/2008 post election violence that left 1,300 people dead and over 300,000 homeless.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been backing Odinga, visited Kisumu on Aug. 1 and commissioned a shipyard and a new ship in Lake Victoria before launching a modern railway station to boost the city’s economic status. Opinion polls show Odinga leading.
The road towards Odinga’s rural home in Bondo, Siaya County is being re-carpeted and his farm is getting a face-lift. Meanwhile, the government has deployed heavy security personnel in Uasin Gishu, Ruto’s home county, after claims that youths are undergoing militia training. On Aug. 2, eight people were arrested in relation to hate speech leaflets circulating in the county.