Tensions on the Rise as Kenyans Set to Vote TomorrowAugust 7, 2017 in Kenya
A calm before the storm appears to have settled across Kenya, as the election campaign has finally ended ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Ten years ago post-election ethnic violence erupted in the country, and now no one in Kenya wants to see this repeated. However with opinion polls predicting a very close race between incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, there are growing fears that there could a new wave of violence could erupt. What will occur in Kenya over the coming days will be less about who wins the election and more about how those who have lost take their defeat.
The key to this will be the success of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) computerised voting system process being considered free and fair. In theory, the voting system in Kenya is good as:
- Electronic identity verification should not allow people to vote more than once or the many dead people on the roll to vote at all;
- Results will be announced at the constituency level;
- Published counts will be sent digitally to Nairobi to be added up;
- Election observers will be at thousands of polling stations.
However if it fails, which was the case in 2013, the votes will be counted manually, and verifying the voters’ roll will be a lot harder and may raise suspicions. Furthermore, in a country where vote-rigging has been alleged in the past, it is highly likely that the loser of the election will challenge the results, as was the case in 2013. During the last election, Raila Odinga turned the courts claiming electoral fraud. He however ended up losing his his case. This time, which is his fourth and probably last attempt to become president, he may turn to the streets if he considers that the election has been stolen, though in recent weeks he has called for calm amongst his supporters.
The IEBC has insisted that the system will work and it has successfully carried out a public “dry run” in order to prove it. However a quarter of polling stations are apparently outside of cellular data range. Furthermore, on 4 August, armed men raided a Nairobi building where the opposition is running its own parallel count and took computers. Later two foreign data analysts working for the opposition were expelled from Kenya. More than 180,000 agents from various organs of state security are also believed to have been deployed for the election. While this could be considered as a prudent security measure, it could also raise fears of polling station intimidation. The worst-case scenario is an extremely close result, a failed electronic voting system and a candidate who is not prepared to concede defeat.
Tensions have already been on the rise in the weeks leading up to the vote. The murder of a key figure a week before the election has really put the country on edge. Chris Msando, the IEBC head of technology, was in charge of the electronic system and was the man who appeared on television to reassure the public it would work and could not be hacked. When it tortured, strangled body was found dumped in a forest, it raised suspicions that somebody was planning to interfere with the election.
If no one wins more than 50% of the vote, then he election will go to a second round, however without a popular third candidate, this seems unlikely. Whatever does happen, the race has pitted two men against each other: Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, against Raila Odinga, the son of its first vice-president and a man who also spent much of his political career in opposition. Mr Kenyatta, the 55-year-old incumbent, wants a second and final term in office for his Jubilee Party after narrowly winning the last election in 2013, despite having International Criminal Court (ICC) charges of inciting violence hanging over him. Mr Kenyatta, an ethnic Kikuyu, and his former rival William Ruto, a Kalenjin, were accused of inciting violence between the two communities. The charges related to the 2007 post-election violence, which killed around 1,200 people and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. While the ICC case recently collapsed due to lack of evidence and after key witnesses died or disappeared, old ethnic wounds, which were reopened, have still not completely healed.