KOGUTA/KISUMU, Kenya- The body of a man was found in a sugarcane field in rural western Kenya on Sunday, one day after high-level officials visited the area aiming to calm ethnic tensions inflamed by the country’s repeated presidential election.
The Luo community largely boycotted Thursday’s election, which was supposed to again pit opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo, against President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu with a Kalenjin deputy president.
The Supreme Court ordered a repeat after it nullified Kenyatta’s win in an August election on procedural grounds.
The motive and perpetrators for the killing in western Kenya were unclear, but it came a day after villagers from the Luo and Kalenjin communities armed themselves against each other.
The body of 64-year-old George Odumbe, a Luo labourer at the local sugar company, was found with three arrows in the back and severe head wounds, a Reuters witness in the village of Koguta said. It was found in a field between Koguta and the nearby Kalengin village of Mau.
Locals warned the death of the Luo man could spark tit-for-tat violence.
“There’s a desire for revenge by the Luo community, I‘m trying to tell them to stay calm, but they are so bitter and angry,” Gordon Onyango, 32, a Luo, said. “The two sides are both having meetings now and they are both armed.”
Reuters was unable to speak with the Kalenjin community in Mau, but saw a group of young men from the village gathered under a tree. Most were armed with bows and arrows.
Odinga withdrew from the rerun election, saying it would not be fair. In his strongholds in the west, an area that has long felt excluded from political and economic power, protesters prevented polling stations from opening in four counties.
Across Kenya, about 10 percent of polling stations were unable to open, although there were no problems in Kenyatta’s areas. Turnout plummeted to about 35 percent from 80 percent in August, undercutting Kenyata’s hopes for a decisive mandate for a second term.
In some parts of the country, such as Koguta in Kisumu county, protests damaged relations with other communities who wanted to vote for Kenyatta.
That anger risks igniting ethnic violence, which killed around 1,200 people after a disputed 2007 presidential vote, but which has been largely absent from this election.
At least 51 people have been killed in political violence since August, but most deaths have occurred in clashes between protesters and police.
Police, although stationed only 400 metres from where the body was discovered, declined to visit the scene for several hours until reinforcements arrived.
Around five hours after the body was found, police took it to the nearby town of Muhoroni.
Police did not answer calls from Reuters. But Julius Genga, a county legislator, said by phone while he was driving to the scene: “We want the police to be deployed to try to restore calm because after the death of this man, tension is boiling up and we don’t want it to escalate it to unmanageable levels.”
Kericho county governor Paul Chepkwony told Reuters that he hoped the death would be “an isolated one”.
On Saturday when he and the Kisumu county governor visited the area, he said, “We delivered the message, aside from parties or politics, that everyone wants peace. That’s still our message.”