As Kenyans go to polls to­mor­row

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

All eyes are on Kenya as the coun­try goes to the polls to­mor­row for an­other round of pres­i­den­tial and gen­eral elec­tions, par­tic­u­larly the ten­sion it has al­ready gen­er­ated and the fear of repli­cat­ing the vi­o­lence that hap­pened dur­ing the coun­try’s 2007 elec­tions. The main con­tenders among the eight can­di­dates cleared by the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion (IEBC) for pres­i­dency in Kenya’s 2017 elec­tion are Uhuru Keny­atta, the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent look­ing for sec­ond term and Raila Amolo Odinga.

Eth­nic­ity has al­ways played a role in Kenya’s pol­i­tics with the two dom­i­nant eth­nic groups of Kikuyu and Luo which have been in ri­valry since the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence in 1963 strug­gling for dom­i­nance. Uhuru Keny­atta, fifty six years old, the son of the first pres­i­dent of Kenya, Jomo Keny­atta is Kikuyu and is con­test­ing un­der Ju­bilee Party. Raila Odinga, who is seventy two, is an eth­nic Luo and is the son of Kenya’s first vice pres­i­dent Jaramogi Odinga Odinga, who served un­der Jomo Keny­atta. He is run­ning un­der Or­ange Demo­cratic Move­ment, ODM.

Odinga was the man that con­tested the 2007 elec­tion against Mwai Kibaki and lost, which led to ter­ri­ble in­tereth­nic vi­o­lence that shocked Africa and the world and led to the death of more than one thou­sand peo­ple while an­other 600,000 peo­ple were dis­placed. Uhuru Keny­atta, who was the then Deputy Prime Min­is­ter was ac­cused of be­ing re­spon­si­ble for spon­sor­ing the fear­ful mungiki mili­tia dur­ing the post­elec­tion eth­nic vi­o­lence and went on trial at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court [ICC] at The Hague on charges of crimes against hu­man­ity.

How­ever in spite of the case in court he went ahead and won the 2013 elec­tion against Raila Odinga. And in 2015 the ICC ter­mi­nated the case, though it re­fused to ac­quit him af­ter the pros­e­cu­tor Fatao Ben-Souda with­drew the charges against him.

It is against this back­drop that Africa and the world hold their breath when Kenya goes to the polls, de­spite the fact that Kenya’s 2013 polls were gen­er­ally peace­ful and free of the blood­shed that char­ac­terised the 2007 polls. The fear this time around may not be un­founded as the man in charge of Kenya’s com­put­erised vot­ing sys­tem was found dead a few days ago. Also, Chris Msando, an elec­toral com­mis­sion IT man­ager, went miss­ing re­cently. The Kenyan In­te­grated Elec­toral Man­age­ment Sys­tem (KIEMS) will be used to iden­tify vot­ers and trans­mit re­sults. This type of elec­tronic sys­tem was used in 2013 elec­tion but failed, lead­ing to man­ual count­ing of votes which some have ar­gued al­lowed for voter ma­nip­u­la­tion.

We hope the elec­toral body must have done a lot of work since then to im­prove on the failed elec­toral sys­tem, so as to have an elec­tion that would have fewer hitches. It must avoid any­thing that would lead to ac­cu­sa­tions of rig­ging or ma­nip­u­la­tion of the kind that led to vi­o­lence ten years ago.

Even though the main con­tenders are sons of two pow­er­ful Kenyans and from two prom­i­nent eth­nic groups and the mi­nor­ity will de­ter­mine the out­come, this will not elim­i­nate the pos­si­bil­ity of vi­o­lence.

The can­di­dates should put the in­ter­est of peace above any pri­mor­dial one and put on leash any po­ten­tial of break­down of law and or­der. The ag­grieved party can seek re­dress in court later. Kenya’s Elec­tions Ob­ser­va­tion Group (ELOG) plans to de­ploy about 5,000 ob­servers to mon­i­tor Tues­day’s vote. ELOG also will use Par­al­lel Vote Tab­u­la­tion (PVT) to mon­i­tor the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. How­ever, the Elec­tions Ob­ser­va­tions Group (ELOG) which is made up of civil so­ci­ety and faith­based or­gan­i­sa­tions said it would de­ploy about 5,700 elec­tion ob­servers. The Euro­pean Union Elec­tion Ob­ser­va­tion Mis­sion is also on ground as well.

This is yet an­other lit­mus test for the re­silience of democ­racy in Africa and we join all well mean­ing per­sons to wish Kenyans well to­mor­row and in the days af­ter.

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