Preliminary results show incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta winning easily. But the opposition has rejected the results, raising the specter of post-election violence.
- By Neha WadekarNeha Wadekar is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.
NAIROBI — Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday rejected preliminary election results that showed him losing to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta by a significant margin, alleging that hackers had gained access to the electoral commission’s database and planted “errors.”
“It has always been common knowledge that Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime was a fraud…. But you can only cheat a people for so long,” Odinga said in a statement. “The 2017 General Election was a fraud.”
Preliminary results show Odinga trailing Kenyatta 44.8 percent to 54.3 percent with 97.1 percent of ballots counted. Tuesday’s vote was peaceful, but Odinga’s rejection of the results raises the specter of unrest in the days to come.
In 2007, Odinga alleged fraud after he lost to President Mwai Kibaki, touching off days of post-election violence in which at least 1,000 people were killed and around 600,000 were displaced. In 2013, he ran unsuccessfully again, this time losing to Kenyatta after the electronic voting system failed. Odinga challenged the results in country’s Supreme Court, alleging that the vote had been rigged, but the justices ruled against him.
This year, authorities had hoped to avoid a repeat of either electoral mishap, deploying a new electronic system that election officials claimed was rig-proof. The system was designed to produce two sets of results — an initial electronic count and a physical count based on hand-counted tallies of votes at the polling station level — that can be compared to ensure their veracity.
But just eight days before the election, a top official in charge of the electronic voting system was found dead, reportedly tortured to death. Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) opposition coalition seized on the incident, claiming that it showed the “determination of the killers to send a chilling message that they will stop at nothing to ensure the [electoral] outcome they desire.”
On election day, millions of voters waited patiently in lines that in some cases stretched for hundreds of yards through slums and villages. But the memory of the 2007-2008 crisis loomed large; streets of the capital, Nairobi, were virtually empty on Tuesday and Wednesday. Grocery stores were left bare as residents stocked up on supplies in anticipation of unrest.
“Everybody is talking about the ongoing president, that he has to go,” said John Oscar, a 34-year-old Odinga supporter living in the Kibera slum, where some of the worst violence occurred in 2007. “So, if Uhuru, the sitting president, is reelected, definitely we might have violence from my point of view.”
Some of Kenyatta’s supporters worried that disappointed Odinga supporters would purposely instigate unrest in response to unfavorable election results. “The people of NASA, they’re very violent,” said Emma, a resident of Mathare in Nairobi who claimed that supporters of the president threw stones at her earlier this week.
Reports of sporadic violence are already emerging in Odinga strongholds, including Kisumu in western Kenya and the Kangware and Mathare slums in Nairobi. Two demonstrators were reportedly shot and killed today in Mathare.
An estimated 180,000 police officers and security guards have been deployed across Kenya, according to election observers. In Kibera, police patrolled with water cannons, wearing riot gear and carrying assault rifles.
Odinga’s claims of fraud hinge on the comparison of real-time electronic results and the official hard-copy results, which are being counted by hand. His campaign has rejected the early results being streamed online, and insists on reviewing the hard copies from each polling station.
The country’s independent election commission, known as the IEBC, has denied that the electoral system was hacked. “Our election management system is secure,” the IEBC tweeted Wednesday. “We confirm there were no interferences before, during and after the polling exercise.”
Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party responded to Odinga’s accusations with accusations of their own. “We did not expect NASA to accept the results of the elections because Raila Odinga has no record of accepting the results of the elections,” said Raphael Tuju, secretary-general of Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party. “Our first suspect if there was any hacking [is] that it was NASA who did it because they seem to know too much about the hacking in detail, which IEBC itself says it doesn’t even know.”
Reports of minor irregularities have trickled in from independent election observers. The Kura Yangu Sauti Coalition (KYSY), an observer mission spearheaded by the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission, released a statement Wednesday about the partial failure of the electronic voting system in some polling centers, saying they resulted in delays. The observers also reported that voters who were not listed on either the biometric or hard-copy registers were turned away from polling centers. Other “gross misconducts by IEBC officials” noted by KYSY observers included election officials in some areas “allegedly guiding people on [how] to vote.”
Other international observers, including from the United States and European Union, have yet to release statements about the conduct of the election. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on the ground as part of the Carter Center’s observer mission, appealed for patience, according to a tweet from the official IEBC account.
Despite the opposition’s claims to the contrary, experts hold out hope that the new electronic system will withstand its first test. “The technology used in the election has worked better at every stage than in 2013, and if that continues to be the case it will increase confidence in the credibility of the result,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham.
Odinga has called on his supporters to remain calm, at least for now, but left open the possibility of calling for “action” sometime in the future. For months, he has been sowing doubts about the integrity electoral process, hinting that the only way he could lose is if the vote was rigged. Just weeks before the election, his coalition claimed to have “concrete evidence” that Kenyatta planned to “overthrow the constitution and use the military to rig himself back in office.”
So, it comes as little surprise that many of Odinga’s supporters are primed to reject a Kenyatta victory. The worry now is that some hard-line opposition supporters may stir up chaos in an effort to cast doubt on the election results and undermine the Jubilee administration’s work over the next five years.
“I think a lot of NASA supporters will be disappointed and they’ll blame a little bit the party as well. And then what will happen is we’ll see some nasty stuff with the hard-liners, so people in Kibera are going to be incredibly upset and unhappy and that’s going to have an expression,” said a political analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But that this might take the form localized rioting, looting — horrible but small-scale attacks on minorities living within those communities, but it is unlikely to be the kind of violence that spreads on the scale that we were worried about before.”
Photo credit: TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images