NAIROBI, Kenya — Thousands of people waved machetes, looted shops and
burned down homes Saturday, angry about the slow return of results from
the closest presidential election in Kenya’s history.
Both candidates insisted they were winning the election, which marks the first time an incumbent has faced a credible challenge in Kenya’s four decades of independence from Britain. The unrest, which police said killed several people across the country, tarnished a vote that foreign and domestic observers had praised as calm and orderly.
Two days after the polls closed, the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) said millionaire opposition candidate Raila Odinga was leading with 3.7 million votes to President Mwai Kibaki’s 3.4 million, with 159 of 210 constituencies counted.
Both sides said they were sure to win, although the results were too close to call.
The trickle of results ignited tensions in the capital and opposition strongholds Saturday.
In the Kibera slum, Odinga’s main constituency, young men with fingers still stained with voting ink were shouting “No Raila, no Kenya!” — an ominous call to declare him the winner. Hundreds of people swarmed out of the slum, heading for town, but police used tear gas to chase them back.
Smoke was billowing out of Kibera as homes, trees and stalls caught fire.
Standing in front of his burned-out home in Kibera, 22-year-old Hamisi Noor said a crowd threatened him with machetes before torching his house and slashing his father across the face.
Noor, a member of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, said his assailants belonged to Odinga’s Luo tribe.
“I don’t know who they were,” said Noor, his trousers covered in blood and mud. “But they were Luos.”
Police blocked off streets as young men climbed billboards to rip down Odinga posters in the capital of Nairobi, about six miles outside the deserted city center.
“Kibaki, come back!” the men shouted as they waved machetes and sticks. Elsewhere in the city, police fatally shot two people, according to a police official who asked for anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the press.
Violence was a major concern in the run-up to the election, and several diplomats said they feared a narrow victory on either side could lead to rioting by those who do not accept or trust the results. Voting was generally orderly, and no major disruptions were reported. But as the results trickled in slowly, suspicions began to flare about the prospect of rigging.
Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement party said the government was deliberately delaying results because they were losing. Police and electoral officials appealed for calm, saying they were doing their best.
“We may get [results] tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. It depends on when they come,” ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu said at a rowdy news conference, in which journalists and others condemned the slow pace.
About 20 miles outside Nairobi, hundreds of people massed along a main highway.
“They are looting houses and stoning cars,” Irungu Wakogi, a witness, told The Associated Press by telephone.
In Kisumu, some 185 miles from Nairobi, shops were being looted and the streets were clogged with protesters. A police officer who asked for anonymity said two banks and a supermarket were broken into.
“People are demonstrating because of the delayed announcement,” said Grace Kaindi, a police official in the city.
Kibaki, 76, has been credited with helping boost this East African nation’s economy, with a growth rate that is among the highest in Africa and a booming tourism industry.
But his anti-graft campaign has largely been seen as a failure, and the country still struggles with tribalism and poverty.
Odinga, a 62-year-old former political prisoner, promised change and help for the poor. His main constituency is Kibera, home to at least 700,000 people who live in extreme poverty.
If Kibaki loses, he will be Kenya’s first sitting president ousted at the ballot box.
Kibaki won by a landslide in 2002, ending 24 years in power by Daniel arap Moi, who was constitutionally barred from extending his term. Moi’s blanket use of patronage resulted in crippling mismanagement and a culture of corruption that plunged Kenya into economic crisis.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, chief European Union election monitor for the Dec. 27 election, had been set to release a report on the vote Saturday, but decided to hold off due to the violence.
“Everyone should remember, and that includes all political parties, candidates and their supporters that violence has no place in a democratic election,” he said.
Meanwhile, the two candidates each said they were winning.
“We are confident that [Odinga] has won the election,” said his campaign manager, Mohamed Isahakia.
Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) begged to differ.
“We in PNU have added all our figures and we are pleased to announce that Honorable Mwai Kibaki is winning this year’s election,” said Noah Wekesa, Kenya’s minister for science and technology.
In order to win, a presidential candidate has to get the most votes as well as garner at least 25 percent of votes in five of Kenya’s eight provinces, a move aimed at ensuring a president has some support in most of the country and its many tribes.
Associated Press writers Katharine Houreld, Tom Maliti, Tom Odula and Akmal Rajput contributed to this report.