• Election commission official killed ahead of tomorrow’s polls, fear of post-election violence forces thousands to flee Nairobi
By Emma Emeozor
Crystal ball gazers who may have predicted that the 2017 presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya would be devoid of violence have been proved wrong. A week to the elections, which hold tomorrow, the head of the technology department of country’s Election Commission, Chris Msando, and a female friend, a 21-year-old student, Carol Ngumbu, were strangled to death by yet-to-be-identified assailants. Ngumbu’s body was found in a forest on the outskirts of the capital city, Nairobi, a few metre aways from the remains of Msando. There is consensus among Kenyans that the killing of Msando is related to the elections.
In December, Msando reportedly told the police that he had received threatening messages and phone calls in October but he had not followed up his complaints.
The killings immediately threw a dark cloud over the country, just as they reminded the people of the culture of violence that has characterised Kenya’s politics since it attained independence.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is being challenged by Raila Odinga. Uhuru is the son of the founding President of Kenya, the late Jomo Kenyatta, while Raila is the son of Jomo’s former ally and Prime Minister Oginga Odinga, who became opposition leader after he and Jomo fell out. Kenyatta is Kikuyu by tribe while Odinga is of the Luo tribe.
Civil society groups, others protest
On Tuesday, civil society groups staged a public protest demanding a speedy investigation of the killings. Beyond the demand for a speedy investigation, the protest aimed to register the angst of the electorate over the threat of political violence to the socio-economic life of a people who were already traumatised by the experience of past post-election violence.
It also sought to make the government and the Election Commission guarantee the safety of election officials during and after the elections. But whatever the expectations of the organisers of the protest and the larger society, the independence of the election commission would determine how best it carries out its function as umpire tomorrow.
The commission’s chairman, Wafula Chebukati, who addressed the protest, described the killing of Msando as “brutal murder.” He also called for the security of all electoral officers. “Let us remember Chris by voting peacefully,” he said.
He assured Kenyans that the commission would be fair to all the parties: “We shall ensure that the ground for voting on August 8, 2017, is level for everyone. So we can remember Chris best by participating in free, fair and credible elections.”
Kenyans flee Nairobi
Non-indigene Kenyans resident in the capital city, Nairobi, have fled to their villages for safety as fear sweeps over the country. This is even after President Kenyatta had condemned the election official’s killing and reassured the electorate that the results of the election “would not be tampered with.”
The thinking among many is that the gruesome killing of Msando and his girlfriend is a warning signal that the country may be heading for another era of post-election violence similar to the 2007 experience, when over 1,000 people were massacred and over were 600,000 displaced. However, as voters cast their ballot tomorrow, it is expected that Msando’s untimely death would be a challenge to prove trouble-makers wrong and eschew post-election violence.
Government agrees there is fear
The government has admitted that the killing of Msando has created palpable fear in the people. It said many people have become nervous, but it remain confident that it could guarantee the safety of all. Senior interior ministry official, Karanja Kibicho, had at a news conference said: “There is a lot of spread of fear . . . which is making some Kenyans choose to leave where they stay to go to their villages, where they perceive it is more peaceful.”
Kibicho said the government was deploying more than 150,000 from the police and other security agencies, including wildfire service, to secure nearly 41,000 polling stations.
The 2007 post-election violence
Post-election violence reportedly started on Sunday, December 31, 2007, 15 minutes after the results of the presidential elections were released and incumbent Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was declared winner over Raila Odinga, the opposition presidential candidate.
Odinga was quick to allege rigging and, therefore, rejected the results. While Kibaki won 46 per cent, Odinga won 44 per cent. Odinga called for a vote recount, a demand that was not accepted by the authorities. Moreover, many observers believed that the election was flawed.
Odinga’s supporters declared him president and threatened to inaugurate him. Conscious of the implication of the declaration, the government responded with a warning, describing the move as a coup plot. The import of the warning was that Odinga could face treason charges. The clashes between supporters of Odinga and Kibaki were not only violent but snowballed into bloody ethnic riots that lasted for two months.
Agency reports said, “Women and children seeking protection in churches were trapped and burnt alive. Slums in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa saw the worst violence with gangs and looters taking advantage of the situation engaging in ethnically motivated attacks.”
Witnesses were quoted as saying that “in several cities across Kenya, gangs went from house to house, dragging out people of certain tribes and clubbing them to death.”
The Kibaki government failed to immediately bring the situation under control because it “used calculated and excessive force, employing the police to intimidate and manage the opposition.” There was, indeed, “evidence of police being given orders to shoot to kill.”
Calm returned only after the international community, particularly the United Nations and the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty intervened. Then, the humanitarian crisis was beyond the scope of the Kenyan government to manage.
No love lost between Kenyatta and Odinga
Tomorrow’s election is not the first presidential contest between Kenyatta and Odinga. They had battled for the country’s topmost office in 2013. At the time, Odinga was prime minister. The same 2007 scenario between Odinga and Kibaki was replayed as Odinga rejected the results after Kenyatta was declared winner. He alleged massive rigging.
However, he did not call for demonstrations like he did in 2007, rather he went to the Supreme Court to seek the invalidation of the results but lost. Odinga had since been very critical of Kenyatta’s government, sometimes giving the president sleepless nights. He seems not to see anything good in the administration. As far as he is concern, Kenyatta’s presidency is a stolen mandate that he must retrieve tomorrow.
Kenyatta knows that Odinga is all out to kick him out from office in a ‘do-or-die’ manner. Early this year, when Kenyatta was asked by the press to comment on his relationship with Odinga, he responded thus: “Raila has been doing his job as the opposition leader perfectly by keeping Uhuru’s administration on its toes.”
Tuko newspaper said, when prodded further, the president had kind words for Odinga, saying politics was not enmity and he considered Odinga to be his friend. But Kenyatta was only being diplomatic or, at worse, economical with the truth, as he “has been angered by Odinga’s criticism, something that saw him at some point call Odinga a madman.”
Odinga raises the alarm over rigging
Last week, the two ‘daggers-drawn’ candidates nudged themselves hard, showing the extent of hate politics that has characterised the campaigns. At the end of a campaign rally, Odinga had told Reuters that the only way Kenyatta’s party, Jubilee, could win tomorrow’s elections was by rigging: “There is no other way that Jubilee can win elections other than through rigging and they know it that is why they are making all efforts.”
Kenyatta immediately demanded evidence from his antagonist. On his expectations, Odinga said: I’m very confident that we are going to get a very, very decisive victory.”
Agency reports said a national poll released Tuesday by Infotrak said support for Odinga was 49 per cent while Kenyatta was at 48 per cent. The poll was conducted between July 27 and 31. The death of Msando may have reinforced Odinga’s fear that the elections would be rigged. One of his key allies, Musalia Mudavadi, was quoted as saying that the murder of Msando “has jeopardised Kenyans’ faith in the credibility of the elections.”
He wants the involvement of international experts in the conduct of the election.
“To restore the shaken confidence in the electronic systems that are key to the credibility and the success of the election … the (election body) should immediately secure the services of an internationally recognised expert in the area,” he said.
Odinga and his supporters seem to have the support of other opposition parties. In its reaction, the National Super Alliance said Msando’s death was an assassination and an attempt to disrupt the vote.
Kenya’s politics of tribal rivalry
Kenya has a disturbing history of tribal rivalry dating back to its early years as an independent country. The largest tribe, the Kikuyu, is often accused of dominating the affairs of the country. Except for President Arap Moi, who was from a minority tribe, all the presidents were from Kikuyu ethnic group. The minority tribes have been struggling to wrest power from the Kikuyu. The rivalry between Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga may have set the pattern for the tribal rivalry that now characterises the politics of the country.
The statesmen were once good friends. In 1964, when Kenya was declared a republic, Jomo became president while Oginga was appointed prime minister. Two years later, the two parted ways following ideological differences. Oginga left Jomo to form a rival party, the Kenya People’s Union. The relationship between the two got to a head after Tom Mboya, a minister in the Jomo Kenyatta government, was assassinated. Oginga was one of the suspects arrested. His party was also banned, leaving the ruling party, the Kenya African Union, as the sole party in the country. Kenyatta died in office in 1978 and was succeeded by Moi as a compromise candidate between the Kikuyu and the minority tribes.
In 1990, Oginga and five other opposition leaders formed the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy. Again, the party was banned and the leaders, including Oginga, were arrested. Oginga died in 1994. Ironically, Uhuru and Raila have continued to promote the politics of rivalry played by their fathers.