As It Happens

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

Chris Msando was in charge of making sure next week's presidential election in Kenya goes smoothly. He was found tortured and killed over the weekend.
Demonstrators hold placards as they protest over the death of Chris Msando, a senior Kenyan election official who was found murdered in Nairobi on Aug. 1, 2017. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

Story transcript

He was in charge of making sure next week's presidential election in Kenya goes smoothly — which is what made Chris Msando's death so shocking.

Msando was the IT specialist behind Kenya's brand new electronic voting machines. On Monday, police in Nairobi announced that the election official had been found brutally tortured and killed.

The presidential vote is just one week away and Msando's violent death has the potential to make a politically tense campaign — where the two front-runners for president are virtually neck-and-neck — even more tense.

Abdullahi Halakhe is a researcher for Amnesty International in Nairobi. He spoke with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay about how Msando's death will affect Kenyans' faith in the election. Here is part of their conversation.

Chris Msando addresses a news conference at the commission's headquarters in Nairobi on July 6. Msando went missing late last week. On Monday, police announced the election official had been found brutally tortured and killed. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Adbullahi, the man tasked with fixing Kenya's electronic voting system has been killed. What message does it send to Kenyans?

The message that it sends, really, is that things could go wrong. Chris is somebody who has been tasked with ensuring the integrity of the elections and losing him, or him being murdered, one week before the election, on the day those systems were supposed to be tested, was a signal to anybody out there who might stand in the way of people who are interested in getting to power that the same fate might visit them.

Chris' loss is everybody's loss in this country. I wish you had seen how passionate he was speaking about ensuring these processes [aimed] at people who are not supposed to vote are going to vote — you know, dead voters on the voter roll or even people who would want to vote more than once. So I think it's a big loss and I'm hoping his perpetrators will be brought to book.

Abdullahi Halakhe is a researcher for Amnesty International in Nairobi. (Abdullahi Halakhe)

How significant was Chris Msando in context to next week's elections?

We cannot over emphasize how significant he is to the entire process. Look at the series of elections that we've had and the violence that preceded or followed after those elections. It was largely because a lot of people did not have faith in the entire process.

In 2007 and 2008, most election observers and people who follow Kenya and do a lot analysis said that the eventual loser was actually the guy who was supposed to win. So having an electronic system was one of the keys to that process. This is an integrated electronic voting system that has your bio-data. What happens is you come in and put in your finger and it generates all of your bio-data. That is cross checked with your ID, that is the national ID that we have here in Kenya.

So he is that significant to the process and he has been working around the clock. People who know him say he stays in the office probably even past midnight to ensure that these processes work. He is probably one of the most significant people in the entire process.

To your point, this election was supposed to be a game-changer in Kenya. The new electronic voting systems were supposed to eliminate the kind of vote rigging that it alleged to have happened in the past elections. So with news of Mr. Msando's death, how much faith do voters have in this election now?

Right now, to be honest with you, I don't know how I feel. And when I say this, I'm speaking for a great deal of people out there who woke up to this bad news that Chris is no more. People die, but, you know, there are too many things that have happened.

On Friday last week, the opposition party coalition came out and said the government is intending to use the military to rig the elections. On Saturday, the deputy president's house was raided by a machete-wielding lone person. On Sunday, we are being told Chris has disappeared. On Monday, we are being told Chris' body has been found.

So all of these things cast a dark cloud over the electoral process — whether it's the legitimacy, whether it's the trust in the institutions that are going to deliver these. So I think a lot of people are not at a good place where they'll say, "Look, these are going to be free, fair, peaceful and legitimate elections."

Do you think Mr. Msando's death was targeted?

I don't want to engage in conspiracy theory when I don't have all the information with me. I think, to the best of our knowledge, with the information that we have, including the information from the chair of the electoral body, Msando was tortured before he was eventually murdered.

Why would you torture him unless you were trying to extract something out of him? 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Abdullahi Halakhe.

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