Of­fi­cial’s mur­der height­ens fears over pres­i­den­tial elec­tion

Test of new voter tech­nol­ogy de­layed

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY NI­COLE AULT

The bru­tal mur­der of a key elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing of­fi­cial barely a week be­fore Kenyans vote for a pres­i­dent has height­ened doubts of the east African na­tion’s abil­ity to hold a peace­ful and cred­i­ble elec­tion.

Christo­pher Msando, who had been in charge of manag­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy sys­tems at the na­tional elec­toral com­mis­sion, dis­ap­peared on Fri­day and was tor­tured be­fore his death, ac­cord­ing to Kenya’s In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion. His body was found on Mon­day, the day the IEBC had sched­uled an au­dit — now can­celed — of its sys­tems be­fore the Aug. 8 elec­tion.

The mur­der comes as fears were al­ready soar­ing that Kenya could face a reprise of the bit­ter cri­sis sparked by a dis­puted pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in De­cem­ber 2007, which was fol­lowed by up to 1,500 deaths, mas­sive dis­lo­ca­tion and ris­ing tribal ten­sions. Elec­tion of­fi­cials said Mon­day they have post­poned a test run of new voter-ID tech­nol­ogy be­cause Mr. Msando was cru­cial in the process.

Mr. Msando’s mur­der is “a pretty shock­ing devel­op­ment, even by Kenyan stan­dards,” said Mark Bel­lamy, for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Kenya and se­nior ad­viser of the Africa Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “This is def­i­nitely wor­ri­some.”

Be­cause of Mr. Msando’s key role in the sys­tems de­signed to en­sure vote­count­ing ac­cu­racy, Mr. Bel­lamy said, his death is likely to cast doubt on the cred­i­bil­ity of the elec­tion, thus height­en­ing the risk of post-elec­tion vi­o­lence.

“This elec­tion will be a test,” said John Camp­bell, a se­nior fel­low for Africa pol­icy stud­ies at the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions. Be­sides Mr. Msando’s death, Mr. Camp­bell noted, a knife at­tack on the deputy pres­i­dent’s house this week­end raised the ques­tion of Kenya’s abil­ity to hold an elec­tion with­out vi­o­lence.

Mr. Camp­bell noted that, as the largest na­tion in East Africa, Kenya’s po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity has a di­rect im­pact on sur­round­ing coun­tries’ elec­tions as well.

“If the elec­tions are peace­ful, it will strengthen [those coun­tries in Africa] that are seek­ing peace­ful elec­tions,” he said.

In the close pres­i­den­tial race be­tween in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta and Na­tional Su­per Al­liance (NASA) can­di­date Raila Odinga, par­ti­san sus­pi­cions are al­ready run­ning high: Past elec­tions in Kenya were fraught with ac­cu­sa­tions of fraud. Though the 2013 elec­tion — also be­tween Mr. Keny­atta and Mr. Odinga — was much more peace­ful, many ques­tioned the re­sults, blam­ing Mr. Odinga’s loss in part on a fail­ure of the elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tem.

But many of the safe­guards im­ple­mented in 2013 are not in place now, Mr. Bel­lamy said, and crit­ics say the gov­ern­ment has not been trans­par­ent in the mea­sures it has taken to en­sure fair­ness at the polls. Many Kenyans al­ready dis­trust the courts and the elec­tion com­mis­sion, he said.

Mr. Odinga’s sup­ported claimed Mr. Msando’s death was an at­tempt to tam­per with the elec­tion: “That no ef­fort was made to cam­ou­flage this killing as an ac­ci­dent shows the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the killers to send a chill­ing mes­sage that they will stop at noth­ing to en­sure the out­come they de­sire,” the op­po­si­tion party said in a press re­lease.

No one has found the mo­tive or the crim­i­nals be­hind Mr. Msando’s death, Mr. Camp­bell said, and both NASA and the cur­rent gov­ern­ment are ca­pa­ble of tam­per­ing with the elec­tion.

Both sides have much at stake in this elec­tion, said Mu­rithi Mutiga, a se­nior an­a­lyst for the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group.

“Keny­atta, a scion of one of the most prom­i­nent po­lit­i­cal fam­i­lies in the coun­try, does not want to make his­tory as the first Kenyan pres­i­dent not to achieve re-elec­tion. His ri­val, Raila Odinga, son of Kenya’s first vice pres­i­dent, is prob­a­bly mak­ing his last se­ri­ous at­tempt at cap­tur­ing the pres­i­dency,” Mr. Mutiga told The Associated Press. “None of them can af­ford to lose.”

The U.S., which has ob­ser­va­tion teams in Kenya to mon­i­tor the elec­tion, should en­cour­age the Kenyan gov­ern­ment to en­sure the elec­tion’s cred­i­bil­ity, and urge the Kenyan se­cu­rity forces to act with re­straint, Mr. Bel­lamy said. The U.S. should also be care­ful of its re­sponse to the elec­tion, which may not be de­cided un­til weeks af­ter­ward, he said.

“Kenyans will look to the United States for judg­ment on whether this is a free and fair elec­tion,” Mr. Bel­lamy said. “How we re­act to this in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math is go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Christo­pher Msando, an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cial for Kenya’s elec­toral com­mis­sion, was found dead Mon­day. He had a role in en­sur­ing vote ac­cu­racy.

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