Kenyan elections have for a long time been characterised by violence sparked by ethnic animosity and claims of rigging, but this year something seems to have changed.
Reports of incidents of violence, which usually break out during the campaign period and continue on polling day and even beyond, were few and far between during this year’s election period which culminated in the polls of Tuesday, August 9, 2022, when Kenyans went to elect their fifth president as well as parliamentary and county leaders.
Among the most serious incidents of violence was the shooting of a man, allegedly by a former MP, at a polling station in Bungoma county in the western part of the country on election day.
Former Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, who was re-elected in the poll, allegedly shot and killed Brian Olunga, an aide of his rival, during an altercation. He gave himself up after going into hiding for three days and is detained in police custody after appearing in court.
Another incident involved the disappearance of an official of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) two days after the voting. The body of Daniel Musyoka, the returning officer of the Embakasi East constituency in Nairobi, was later found dumped in Loitoktok, Kajiado county, more than 200 kilometres away, four days after he was reported missing.
The Independent Policing Oversight Authority reported that two men were shot and injured and a woman was assaulted by policemen in Eldas, Wajir county.
Bungoma county also reported an attempted rape allegedly by an officer at a police station, while a political aspirant’s bodyguard was allegedly shot and seriously injured by a police officer in Uasin Gishu county in the Rift Valley region on the eve of the polls.
Kenyans seem to have heeded a chorus of voices exhorting them to keep the peace during the election period. Among the prominent people urging peace were United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. According to Ned Price, spokesman for the United States Department of State, Blinken “encouraged continued peace and patience as vote tallying from Kenya’s August 9 election proceed” during a call to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Peace continued to hold even amid tension caused by the extended counting and tallying that took almost a week to conclude. The tension was further heightened by media houses’ unverified and varying sequences of presidential results after the electoral commission opened to the public a portal filled with raw polling data from polling stations.
Social media response to the unverified results added to tension, division, and anxiety around the country.
“Social media has been awash with false information relating to the results of the elections which has not only caused massive tension and division amongst the more than 23 million internet users in Kenya, but has the potential to spark violence as has been witnessed in some parts of the country,” said The Angaza Movement, a consortium of 18 organisations rooting for electoral integrity and political accountability, during a press conference on August 12, 2022.
The organisations noted that the situation had been exacerbated by the divergent tallying of the presidential results by the mainstream media, which they said had caused “confusion, anxiety, fear, unrest and in extreme cases, violence”.
According to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, some 74 election cases had been reported, 9 per cent of which were related to the publication of false information.
Angaza had earlier reported that the voting process had got off to a rocky start characterised by delayed opening of polling stations; failing KIEMS kits; delayed voting; lack of election materials to enable the voting process to start; mix-ups in ballot boxes and papers; allegations of voter bribery; uncertainty and lack of consistency in procedures; lack of standards for handling voter concerns; and challenges in administrative support and decision-making, especially on the handling of voters’ missing details.
The biggest test to Kenyans’ budding political and electoral tolerance was the official announcement of the final presidential results by the IEBC on Monday, August 15, 2022. Amid building tensions as the ceremony of declaring the winner, staged at the Bomas of Kenya conference complex in Nairobi, was delayed and a fracas broke out in the auditorium when the supporters of one of the candidates sensed that things might not go their way, the eventual unveiling of the winner of the presidential race, Deputy President William Ruto, was not met with violence in his opponent Raila Odinga’s political strongholds in Nairobi and Nyanza, as had widely been feared.
Earlier, Odinga’s chief agent, Saitabao ole Kanchuri, had claimed that the IEBC systems used to tally the results of the presidential contest had been compromised.
“We have intelligence reports that the IEBC system was penetrated and hacked and that some of the IEBC officials had committed electoral offences and some of them ought to have been arrested,” he said.
The claims of malpractices marred the praise that had earlier been heaped on the electoral management body for transparency in the transmission of results. Unlike in past elections, forms 34A, used in the initial tallying at the constituency level, were uploaded on the IEBC public portal and made available to the public.
The allegations were worsened by sharp differences among the seven commissioners, four of whom disowned the final presidential results and accused the chairman, Wafula Chebukati, who declared the winner, of opaquely conducting the exercise and excluding the majority of his colleagues.
Even when Odinga later rejected the results, alleging malpractices, and hinted at the possibility of challenging them in court, peace continued to prevail, raising hopes that the Kenyan public might finally have reached a level of political maturity that will lead to the avoidance of election violence, which has in the past characterised differing views and standpoints. There was hope that this will lead to reduced cases of human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings and gender-based election-related violence.
President-elect Ruto has a history with the International Criminal Court (ICC). His case arose from the Kenya situation, which resulted from the post-election violence of 2007/2008. The election results that ushered then President Mwai Kibaki into his second term were disputed by his main rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, and sparked violence that engulfed many parts of the country. More than 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of others were displaced in the raging ethnic animosity.
Kibaki’s successor Uhuru Kenyatta and Francis Muthaura, a senior government official, who were facing five counts of crimes against humanity, had the proceedings against them terminated on March 13, 2015, upon the prosecution’s notice of withdrawal of charges due to insufficient evidence. Kenyatta went on to win Kenya’s presidency in 2013 and seems poised to be replaced by his deputy and fellow former accused at the ICC, Ruto.
In the case against Ruto and former journalist Joshua Sang, the six counts of crimes against humanity were vacated on April 5, 2016, due to witness interference. This means they can be opened afresh in the future if more evidence is found. Lawyer Paul Gicheru was later charged at the ICC with witness interference in connection with the Ruto and Sang case. His trial has been concluded and he is waiting for the court’s verdict.