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Calm before the Kenyan election storm


Kenya is holding its breath as the blaring speakers of the election campaign cars finally fall silent ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

Ten years ago there was terrible post-election ethnic violence in the country, which nobody here wants to see repeated.

But with opinion polls predicting a very close race between incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, there are fears there could be trouble ahead.

What happens to Kenya is less about who wins the elections and more about how those who lose take their defeat.

The success of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) computerised voting system is key to the process being considered free and fair.

If it fails – as it did in 2013 – the votes will be counted manually, and in a country where vote-rigging has been alleged in the past, the loser will no doubt challenge the result.

In 2013, Raila Odinga turned to the courts claiming electoral fraud, and lost.

This time – his fourth and probably last attempt to become president – he may turn to the streets if he considers the election to have been stolen.

In theory, the voting system is a good one:

  • 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

But if the computer system goes down, verifying the voters’ roll will be a lot harder, and may raise suspicions.

Chris MsandoImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Chris Msando said the electronic voting system he had helped develop could not be hacked

The murder of a key figure a week before the poll – the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) head of technology – has really put the country on edge.

Chris Msando was in charge of the electronic system, and was the man who appeared on TV to reassure the public it would work – and couldn’t be hacked.

When his tortured, strangled body was found dumped in a forest, it raised suspicions that somebody was planning to interfere with the election.





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