- By Neha PaliwalNeha Paliwal is the Editorial Assistant for Democracy Lab.
The international press has been eagerly monitoring Kenya’s March 4 general election for signs of the ethnic violence that left more than 1,100 people dead after the last election in 2007. By that standard, this year’s contest appears to have largely gone off without a hitch. Many voters hit the polls early, getting there hours before they opened at 6 A.M., and many more stood in long lines for over five hours for the opportunity to cast their vote. You could call it a great display of democracy — or a failure of the country’s electoral commission, the IEBC, to run things smoothly.
In one of the most interesting monitoring initiatives surrounding the election, Uchaguzi, the electoral arm of the data visualization company Ushahidi, has used crowdsourced reports to collect information on irregularities happening around the country. Through Twitter, email, and a form on Uchaguzi’s website, Kenyans have submitted more than 4,456 messages from almost 1,700 locations. After going through an approval and verification process, these citizen-generated reports have helped paint a clearer picture of how the election really went.
Violence has been reported (in pink) in Nairobi, Nyeri, Kipsigak, Naivasha, and Mombasa, but most mishaps in the country seem to have stemmed from administrative failures and problems with new biometric voter registration machines that were meant to modernize the process. Kenyans reported instances of bribery, polls opening late, and some eligible voters being turned away because their names weren’t on voter lists. In Homa Bay, Uchaguzi noted that there were some cases of a “complete lack of elections taking place.”
Most reports of violence centered on Nairobi, where there were specific mentions of the presence of weapons and hate speech, and insufficient law enforcement. Queue-jumping was also an issue, with the Toronto Star reporting that some mothers “rented” out their children to other people so that they could cut to the front of lines. There have also been positive reports (shown in green) of peace efforts, strong police presences, or, quite simply, everything running smoothly.
The accused war criminal Uhuru Kenyatta currently has a strong lead in the vote tally, but problems with rejected ballots and the fact that many pro-Odinga areas have yet to be counted could still alter the outcome. While the IEBC technically has a week to declare the winner, results are expected to be announced tomorrow.
Overall, the lack of violence has made the election a success. But with all the bumps experienced by the IEBC, the real democratic victors could be citizen-participation tools like Uchaguzi.