How murders haunt polls

Kenya Electoral Commission technical chief Chris Msando was murdered five years ago

Bad 2017 polls and the brutal murder of a top official in charge of voting technology still haunt Kenya ahead of next week’s elections.

The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission has repeatedly tried to reassure a skeptical public that his team can cast a credible vote, but he has also been warning of a coordinated campaign, especially on social media, to defame and intimidate his workers .

“Our committee staff, especially [those in] ICT is freaking out right now…I just want to urge the people behind it to stop what they’re doing,” Wafula Chebukati told reporters.

He had good reason to worry: Five years ago, his then-tech chief Chris Msando and his 21-year-old friend Carol Ngumbu were kidnapped and brutally killed.

Their bodies were found in bushes on the outskirts of the capital Nairobi – no one has been arrested or charged for the murders, which remain shrouded in mystery.

“Certainly, with professional police service and a professional and effective government, we’re going to get some results on this… The state doesn’t know who took an election official who was dealing with a very sensitive part of the election. lives,” Irũngũ Houghton, executive director of Amnesty International Kenya, told a local TV station recently.

With a friendly and dispassionate attitude, Mr. Msando became a regular on local television, showing steps he had taken to ensure the election was not rigged.

“Dead voters don’t stand up under my watch,” he said in an interview.

He is confident in biometric data that he can use fingerprints and electronic systems to transmit results to verify voters.

piles of ballots

Ballots used in elections are printed abroad

The use of the technology follows the fallout from the 2007 polls, when allegations of ballot stuffing sparked weeks of violence in which at least 1,200 people were killed and some 600,000 fled their homes. The then-chairman of the electoral committee even admitted he wasn’t sure who won.

The election also looks set to be a close presidential race – front-runner Raila Odinga, the long-serving opposition leader running for president for the fifth time, has a rivalry with Vice-President William Ruto. (William Ruto).

“Technology is not democracy”

Adding to the drama, outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta is backing Mr Odinga, a nemesis-turned-ally, to succeed him after his relationship with Mr Ruto fell apart.

Voters will also choose the governor, senators, members of Congress and county councillors.

However, the increased use of technology in three polls since 2007 has not brought credibility — in 2017, it led to the Supreme Court overturning the vote and ordering new elections.

“Despite 2013 failure, more technology was procured in 2017. Election cost jumped from $10 [£8] Technology and governance analyst Nanjira Sambuli told the BBC

“Technology is not democracy,” Ms. Sambury said.

The Supreme Court ruled that the August 2017 ballot was “invalid, void” because some 10,000 polling stations failed to deliver ballots.

“That’s a large number, plus the excuses given by the Electoral Commission when it was asked to turn on computer servers to review what happened,” constitutional lawyer James Manboleo told the BBC.

“They say the commission must be accountable to the people in everything from voter registration to an effective transmission system.”

The ruling dented confidence in Mr Chebcati, who has managed to stay in office despite relentless pressure to resign.

This time, the committee will reuse tens of thousands of election voter verification kits purchased for the October 2017 re-election and tightened the process.

The Electoral Commission had planned to use the electronic system exclusively to identify voters, but a last-minute court decision ruled that a physical printed register should also be available if the biometric system fails.

The results will be sent digitally from more than 50,000 polling stations, rather than the previously used text message.

Here’s how it works in a presidential election:

  • All voters must be verified using fingerprints or ID

  • Images of result forms signed by the chairperson and party proxy will be electronically transmitted to constituency and national level counting centers using the Integrated Voting Toolkit after voting has closed

  • A copy of the form will be given to party agents and posted outside polling stations

  • Voter verification kits will be locked to individual polling stations to prevent fraud

  • The winner will only be announced after the committee has received the physical result form and verified it against the photos originally sent.

“We will make it difficult for people to challenge our results in court in this election because we are so transparent that even if they want to go to court, they will be very embarrassed,” Justus Nyangaya, one of the electoral commissioners, told the BBC.

He also said the voter identification kit would send a message to the National Ballot Counting Center every two hours, which he said would thwart attempts to stuff ballot boxes.

Vavra Chebukati

Mr Chebukati is a man on a mission to redeem himself after the last election was cancelled

Still tormented by the last election, the head of the electoral commission also urged the media, political parties and civil society to count the votes themselves.

Political analyst Hesbon Owila said: “Chebukati intends to make up for it by taking full responsibility as chairman and establishing a system that guarantees free, fair, transparent and verifiable elections. , to spare the chairman’s famous legacy of electoral blunders,” told the BBC.

“As a person, he has learned from the past, but as Kenyans, we … can also be vigilant.”

Mr Mamboleo agreed: “Are the electoral commissions trying to meet the high standards set by the 2017 Supreme Court ruling? In my opinion, yes. They are engaging with parties, candidates and the public in a way we have never seen in past elections middle.”

call for justice

By law, the electoral commission has seven days after the vote to declare the winner — and by encouraging the media and others to tally the results, Mr Chebkati hopes the transparency will prove him and the commission right.

If achieved, this will undoubtedly be an important milestone for Kenya.

Last month, the families of Mr. Msando and Ms. Ngombo commemorated the fifth anniversary of their murders, saying again that Kenya’s democracy should be based on the rule of law – and hope that one day they too will get justice.

“We pray that one day we will know the truth,” Mr. Msando’s family wrote in an obituary in a local newspaper.

Click here for BBC Interactive

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