Obama urges clean Kenyan vote after 2007 'turmoil'

US President Barack Obama urged Kenyans on Tuesday to hold a peaceful, free and fair election next month, urging them not to repeat the violence that overshadowed voting last time round.

In a message released by the US Embassy in Nairobi, Obama, whose late father was an economist for the Kenyan government, said that any disputes before or after the March 4 polls must be resolved "in the courts, not in the streets."

The election is the first since 2007 when Kenya spiraled into ethnic strife that killed more than 1,100 people and displaced around 600,000 more.

"After the turmoil of five years ago, you've worked to rebuild communities, reform institutions and pass a new constitution," Obama wrote, in a letter that began "habari yako," a greeting in Kenya's lingua franca Swahili.

"Now, Kenya must take the next step in March, with the first national elections under your new constitution. We all know what makes for successful elections. Kenya must reject intimidation and violence," he said.

Between 2007 and 2008, Kenyan radio stations encouraged rival supporters to go out and attack other groups, broadcasting people's respective locations, while mobile telephone text messages were also used to whip up emotions.

The violence that followed the December 2007 polls shattered Kenya's image as a beacon of stability in east Africa, and the unrest was the country's worst since independence in 1963.

Obama said he "can't imagine a better way to mark the 50th anniversary of Kenyan independence" than for the people of Kenya "to come together, instead of tearing apart."

"If you do, you can show the world that you are not just a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud nation," Obama added.