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Corruption again at the forefront of Kenya's presidential election

President Mwai Kibaki on Thursday tries to retain his job as head of a country considered to be the jewel of East Africa, a re-election bid threatened by his failure to fulfill earlier campaign pledges to stamp out endemic graft in Kenya.
Kibaki swept into office five years ago on a pledge to crack down on corruption in a country boasting the region's largest economy. But with Kenyans facing a litany of woes, ranging from crooked police demanding bribes to lawmakers who drain public coffers for personal gains, the graft issue is again at the forefront of what has become the closest presidential race in the country's history.
"Kibaki gave people high hopes five years ago, but the government failed to get rid of corruption," Steve Mugo, a taxi driver in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, said Wednesday. "The police are still corrupt, they're all corrupt."
Opinion polls have put opposition candidate Raila Odinga ahead of Kibaki, although the race is considered too close to call. Allegations of corruption _ including voter intimidation and violence _ have been central themes in the campaigns, with both men vowing to end the graft that has scared off foreign investment and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
On the eve of the vote, authorities said opposition supporters had stoned three police officers to death in western Kenya, accusing them of being part of a government conspiracy to rig the elections.
Grace Kaindi, the region's police chief, said the violence started Tuesday when about 50 officers arrived by bus in Mbita, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) west of the capital, Nairobi.
"Word spread round about their arrival and members of the public pounced on them because they thought they were going to rig the vote," Kaindi said.
Kenyan broadcaster KTN and Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party have said authorities were disguising police as party agents to carry out fraud at polling stations.
European Union election observers said they were aware of claims that a bus carrying ballot papers pre-marked for Kibaki had been intercepted in southwestern Kenya.
"So far this is at the level of rumors and allegations," said Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, chief EU election monitor.
Kibaki has vigorously denied the allegations.
With its Indian Ocean beaches, fabled game parks and booming tourism industry, Kenya in many ways is flourishing.
The country is leading projects to link eastern Africa with Europe with a high-tech undersea telecommunications cable, and a French-led consortium recently won a bid to buy 51 percent of the state-owned telecommunications company.
But the benefits for Kenyans, and the attraction for foreigners, are hampered by corruption.
"We shall amend the law to stop corrupt people from joining politics," Kibaki, 76, said as he campaigned this week. "It is unfortunate that people steal from the public and run to politics."
Just a few kilometers (miles) away, at his own rally, 62-year-old Odinga asked: "For how long shall we be held hostage by the monster of corruption?"
Kibaki ran on an anti-corruption campaign for his first term, and some Kenyans were so emboldened by his victory they started making citizen's arrests of police who demanded bribes. But while he has been credited with helping boost this East African nation's economy, his anti-graft campaign has been seen as a failure.
During Kibaki's five-year tenure, no top officials have been charged with corruption despite several scandals.
Odinga, meanwhile, has been accused of failing to do enough to help his constituents during his 15 years as a member of parliament. Nairobi's Kibera slum, one of Africa's largest slums and Odinga's home constituency, has remained impoverished on a breathtaking scale.
For many observers, however, the very fact that the race is a toss-up is a sign of how far Kenya has come in 15 year of multiparty democracy. Sitting presidents are usually re-elected in Africa, where leaders often stop at nothing to retain their grip on power. And in Kenya, an incumbent has never before faced a credible challenge.
When Kibaki ran in 2002, then-President Daniel Arap Moi was constitutionally barred from extending his 24 years in power. Moi won in 1992 and 1997 in elections marked by allegations of vote-rigging.
Some 14 million of Kenya's 36 million people are eligible to vote Thursday. According to a poll released just ahead of the vote, 89 percent of Kenyans regard graft as a greater problem than unemployment, poverty or insecurity.
Corruption has long been a scourge in Kenya, dating back to the years before independence in 1963. But some of the most notorious cases date to Moi's era.
In the Goldenberg scandal, the country lost an estimated US$1 billion through bogus gold and gem exports during the 1990s. And Kenyans lost an estimated US$200 million in state money when security contracts were awarded to a web of fictional companies known as Anglo Leasing.
None of the high-ranking government officials in the cases has been prosecuted, and in many cases have been reappointed to their old jobs under Kibaki despite the scandals surrounding their tenure.
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AP Writer Tom Odula contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.


Updated : 2020-12-05 16:13 GMT+08:00