A TOTAL of 12,000 local and international observers have been deployed in Kenya to witness elections for president, parliament and regional governments on August 8. Ghana’s former President, John Mahama, who lost power last December, is heading a 15-member Commonwealth Observer Group, while the ex-President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is leading the 104-member African Union Observer Mission. There are other observer groups from Europe and North America.
The battle for the presidency is between two scions of the leading figures in Kenya’s independence struggle: Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, son of Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first leader, and Raila Odinga, 72, son of Oginga Odinga, Kenya’s first Vice-President. Kenyatta, representing the Jubilee Party, is seeking a second five-year term with his Vice-President, William Ruto.
Odinga and his running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, are representing the opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance (NASA), in a presidential contest that features eight candidates.
Kenyans are wary about the outcome of the elections, given that they have had to endure two turbulent polls. In 2007, post-election violence left 1,300 dead and in 2013 technical failures caused a massive disruption in voter registration that led to opposition politicians disputing the results in the Supreme Court that gave Kenyatta victory for the first time.
Now, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), sophisticated technology is in place to ensure that the results are not compromised so that the outcome is perceived to be transparent. Transparency is the buzzword among Kenyans who argue that if there are no grey areas in the voting and announcement of the results, their leaders should accept the verdict from the IEBC.
But on August 1 there was a major setback for the electoral process when Chris Msando, who was in the charge of the IEBC’s IT system was found murdered. Before his death he had assured Kenyans that the system could not be interfered with.
Msando’s murder raised the stakes, as people started expressing fears that violence could erupt if politicians cast doubt on the outcome of the elections. But the IEBC is saying that it is on top of things.
Nevertheless, days before the poll people were stocking up essential supplies and others moving from urban centres to rural areas apparently to avoid violence, although this could also be explained by the fact that most voters are registered in their rural communities and were going home to cast their ballot.
But the security authorities have assured Kenyans that they should not worry about post-election violence. They said security preparations had been in place for the past 18 months.
Interior Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho said of the preparations by the security agencies: “They looked at scenarios and situations and have conducted joint training and simulated a number of situations in case of violence.” The National Police Service announced that 150,000 police officers have been deployed on the ground to ensure security.
The Western media narrative of the campaign is the usual simplistic one of “tribalism” that they employ in their coverage of politics throughout Africa. But there are more burning socio-economic issues that Kenyans want to see addressed by politicians.
The push is coming from young people who have been used regularly by politicians during elections, only to be dumped after they get to power. Young Kenyans are beginning to realise that they have to ensure that the present remains stable for their own future’s sake, some told the ALC Radio (Listen to Kenya Election Perspectives from Kirinyaga County).
The politicians have been talking to this constituency, which is the largest in the country. In a last message to the electorate, President Kenyatta said: “…too many Kenyans are still struggling and there is much work to be done. Many of our youth who study and work hard can’t find jobs; high food prices still leave many families hungry and our manufacturing sector has not yet delivered enough new jobs and higher wages. I am determined to finish the job we started to improve the lives of every one of our brothers and sisters.”
President Kenyatta promised that over the next five years his administration would create 6.5 million jobs, especially for young people. “We will continue to invest in infrastructure, education and training, small enterprises and a 21st century high-tech economy that will drive prosperity and job creation for all,” he said.
In his final election pitch, Mr. Odinga said that he and his colleagues in the NASA coalition “will focus on what really matters”. He added: “We plan to create a ladder that every Kenyan can climb in prosperity and success. We will aid small-scale farmers to raise incomes and crop yields and bring prices down. We will pay doctors and nurses what they deserve. And we will remove all manner of fees for our schoolchildren in September.”
Mr. Odinga debunked the “Us versus Them” narrative, saying: “Our country is not divided by age, gender or language. Some would say we are divided by tribe. I don’t believe it.”
He pointed to the 2002 victory by the opposition National Rainbow Alliance and the 2010 constitutional referendum. “Kenyans voted overwhelmingly without thought to tribe,” Odinga said. “Instead, the division in our country is [among] a small corrupt elite.”
Kenyans, this time round, appear to realise that their destiny is in their hands. One told the ALC website: “Now we are all human resources managers and we are the ones who will decide which politicians get jobs and those who don’t.”
By Desmond Davies in Nairobi