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Kenyans flee Nairobi in fear of poll violence

Nairobi, Kenya

At the Machakos bus station in Nairobi, hundreds of people are bumping into each other, tickets held firmly on one hand, the other clutching heavy luggage.

One might think it a common scene at every bus station across the globe but in Nairobi, unless you are traveling in the morning, at midday or at night, bus stations usually have little to no activity, so what is troubling Kenyans?

At one of the ticketing areas, a notice reads: “No boarding without showing ID and voters card.” Immediately one can piece together that this exodus from the capital has something to do with Kenya’s coming general election.

With just four days to go until the polling day, opinion polls in Kenya are showing incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga are almost evenly matched, with some predicting Kenyatta will win with a slight margin but others suggesting the same for Odinga.

However, Kenyans from all walks of life are leaving the capital in droves, fearing a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence that led to the deaths of more than 1,300 people and left more than 500,000 others internally displaced.

Balancing a suitcase on his head, his right hand clutching that of his daughter while the left held firmly onto a large travel bag just next to his son, Joshua Wesonga rushes to board a bus headed for western Kenya.

“I am in a hurry to leave. I was supposed to actually be out of Nairobi last week.

“I can’t stay here; I have sent my whole family back to Bungoma in western Kenya because we don’t want to be slaughtered when violence breaks out,” he tells Anadolu Agency.

“They have already put up posters warning us that if they lose then we will be hacked. The police are always arresting the youth in the slums where I come from but even they are afraid to come to Mathare [one of the biggest slums in Nairobi] now.

“If all goes well I will come back but as for me and my wife we will not vote,” the father-of-two says as he pushes onboard a bus headed out of the city.

‘I just want to feel safe’

Another traveler, Jane Apiyo, who was outside a bus waiting for the conductor to load her disassembled bed and sofa set, tells Anadolu Agency: “I just want to go to Kisumu [a port city in western Kenya] where I feel safe, where everybody is from my tribe.

“Here in Nairobi, we live with people from other tribes. 2007 taught me well after I lost an uncle and two of his sons to the violence; no one will make me stay here.”

At the bus terminus, hundreds, if not thousands, were queuing, hoping to get a chance to travel upcountry. A commotion breaks out as a woman screams “Thief! Thief!” — everyone around her continues with their business as if they heard nothing.

“They took my money and half of my bus fare,” she fumes, walking away.

At the Easy Coach bus terminus, which is mostly used by the middle-class in Nairobi, buses were fully booked till Aug. 9.

‘Do not flee’

Speaking on a number of security issues ahead of the election, including the mass exodus, Interior Ministry official Karanja Kibicho called on Kenyans to stay put.

“Do not flee. We have had a season where there is a lot of fear spread by politicians especially, which is making some Kenyans leave where they stay for their villages,” Kibicho acknowledged.

He added those fleeing believed their rural homes would be “more peaceful”.

Andolu Agency