Tuesday August 08, 2017

Kenyans on edge as presidential vote puts democracy to the test

A Maasai tribeswoman votes during the presidential election in Kisamis, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2017.  Around 19 million people are registered to vote in the country.

A Maasai tribeswoman votes during the presidential election in Kisamis, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2017. Around 19 million people are registered to vote in the country. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Listen 18:47

Read Story Transcript

Kenya's presidential election reaches the final stretch today as Africa — and the world — watch closely.

With 19 million people registered to vote, many Kenyans hoped the vote would prove how robust the country's democracy has grown — but tensions can run high at elections.

In 2007, violence marred presidential elections, leaving 1,200 dead. Today's vote between two duelling political dynasties — serial contender Raila Odinga and incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta — has already been marked by violence.  A senior Kenyan election official who had been working to keep the vote fair, Chris Msando, was found tortured and killed in early August. 

RelatedWhat the slaying of a Kenyan election official means for democracy in the country

KENYA-ELECTION/

Demonstrators hold placards as they protest over the death of Chris Msando, a senior Kenyan election official who was found murdered in Nairobi, Aug.1, 2017. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

John-Allan Namu, a Kenyan investigative journalist with Africa Uncensored, tells The Current's guest host Megan Williams that while polling stations seem "fairly calm" in most of Nairobi, "the election has definitely affected the overall psyche of the country ... because of Msando's role specifically."

Namu explains Msando was an acting director of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and was in charge of rolling out a new electoral management system that included voter identification and registration. It also featured an electronic transmission of the results "to be able to ensure that the votes are free and fair and there's no ballot stuffing or rigging in various parts across the country."

KENYA-ELECTION/

Turkana tribeswomen wait to vote in front of a polling station during elections in a village near Baragoy, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2017. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

In a conversation a few weeks before Msando was murdered, Namu says "he spoke very confidently about how well the system was going to work."

Gabrielle Lynch, an expert in Kenyan politics at the University of Warwick in the U.K., agrees Msando's murder has definitely affected the mood around the election.

KENYA-ELECTION/

A Maasai tribesman walks along the deserted road after voting during the presidential election in Kenya, Aug. 8, 2017. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

"It has increased people's fears about electoral malpractice, and it may also play into people's perceptions if anything goes wrong with the election technology," Lynch tells Williams.

"So if that goes wrong, it will be blamed on his death."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ashley Mak, Julian Uzielli, Pacinthe Mattar and Howard Goldenthal.