Civil society calls for delay of Kenya's rerun election, warns of violence

A man casts his vote at a polling center during the Kenyan general elections in August 2017. Photo by: Sara Jerving / Devex

NAIROBI — Days before Kenya’s rerun election, civil society is pushing for the nation’s Supreme Court to call off the polls, warning that if the electoral commission is ill-prepared, an election could set the country “on the brink of bloodshed and hurtling towards catastrophe.”

The Supreme Court, which invalidated President Uhuru Kenyatta’s August victory because of irregularities and illegalities, mandated that a new election be held in 60 days. But many are skeptical that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission — or IEBC, the nation’s electoral commission — is prepared to hold a fresh election that resolves the problems of the initial election in such a short amount of time.

Opposition candidate Raila Odinga submitted a list of reforms needed for Thursday’s vote to the electoral commission, but the commission said it would implement only some of the changes and not others, such as using a different company to print ballots and return forms. In response, in an October 10 statement where he announced he would not be participating in the rerun election, Odinga said that “all indications are that the election scheduled for Oct. 26 will be worse than the previous one.” He has since called for nationwide demonstrations on the day of the polls.

In a statement published on Monday, a group calling themselves “We-the-People,” consisting of civil society organizations and trade unions, among others, said that the country is not prepared to hold a “free, fair and credible” election on October 26. The statement called on Wafula Chebukati, the chairperson of the IEBC, to push the Supreme Court for a delay.  

Separately, the Supreme Court is expected to hear a case on Wednesday, which was filed by three Kenyans and asks for a delay in the vote.

We-the-People expressed concern about “ethnic militias mobilizing and vernacular radio stations calling on people to prepare for war,” saying that communities are arming themselves, fueled by incendiary remarks from politicians.

The humanitarian sector has been planning for potential election-related violence over the past year, creating likely scenarios and contingency plans, as previously reported by Devex. These efforts are an attempt to prevent a repeat of the post-election violence that followed the election in 2007, where more than 1,000 were killed and 600,000 were displaced.

Raising the alarm

Last week, Roselyn Akombe, commissioner for the IEBC, resigned her post and fled to New York after receiving threats. In her resignation statement, she said that a credible election was not possible “when the staff are getting last minute instructions on changes in technology and electronic transmission of results. Not when in parts of country, the training of presiding officers is being rushed for fear of attacks from protesters.”

Chebukati echoed these statements in a speech reported on by local media. “I have made several attempts to make crucial changes, but all my motions have been defeated by a majority of the commissioners. Under such conditions, it is difficult to guarantee free, fair and credible elections,” he said.

In the meantime, the National Assembly has pushed through a controversial electoral amendment bill, which includes a provision that says an election cannot be considered void because of a failure to relay or record the votes electronically. In response, the European Union Kenyan Election Observation Mission released a statement that said that the timing of the amendments is “not consistent with good practice for electoral law reform.” The bill is awaiting Kenyatta’s signature.

In light of the rising tensions, there has been an increase in concerns about the safety of election workers and observers on the day of the polls.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights released a statement condemning the physical attacks and injuries to IEBC workers, noting that an election under these conditions “would impede citizens from freely exercising their rights and may trigger violent unrest.” On Tuesday, the European Union Kenyan Election Observation Mission announced it is downsizing its observation mission, citing the security of its observers amid “extreme tension, disruptions of polling preparations, and strong criticism that has been made of the international community.”

Excessive force

In the wake of the August election, Kenyan security forces have used excessive force to quell protests, according to Human Rights Watch. The death toll could be as high as 67 people. There is concern that security forces are gearing up to respond with similar force to the demonstrations planned for Thursday.

“We have already witnessed hundreds of general service unit police officers allegedly being deployed” to the National Super Alliance political coalition strongholds, “with the idea of securing the presidential election,” according to a statement released last week by Njonjo Mue, chairman of Kenya’s chapter of the International Commision of Jurists.

The International Crisis Group also released a briefing on Monday that called for the election commission to seek a 30 to 45 day delay from the Supreme Court, which would allow for a delay without violating the nation’s constitution.

“The risk of clashes between rival supporters or between security forces and protesters seeking to block the vote is high. New violence would be devastating for Kenya, the economic hub of East Africa,” the group wrote.

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About the author

  • Headshot sarajerving

    Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.