Since early August we have travelled from Kenya to Europe. Departing from Nairobi was a rare scene of a congested airport packed with expatriates and Kenyans fleeing the country. For the unpopular 5am flight, it took more than 30 minutes wait to enter the airport! We were told by our banking friends, great amount of the foreign investments has been pulled out of Kenya long before August. The U.N. has also warned their Kenyan staff to stock up on provisions for the weeks to come in case of any emergency.
So what is going on in Kenya?
8 August 2017 is a big day of elections for Kenyans. Whilst the previous election in 2013 was a peaceful one, the post-violence of the contested poll in 2007 cost more than 1500 lives. The 2017 election is a heated rivalry between the incumbent Kenyatta and the long-term opposition leader Odinga who is the 4th time runner-up for president. Kenyatta would be constitutionally barred from a third term if victorious this time while Odinga would be prevented by age in running president in the future. Thus, both candidates are desperately needing a “sure-win”. Commentators suggest that the concern lies not in whether the candidate would accept the defeat, but rather what the losing party would do at not accepting the election results. Kenyans are holding their breaths for potential violence to sweep after the election.
Political loyalty in Kenya often reflects ethnic identity. Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance is largely supported by the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes who are greatest in population, while Odinga has the support of the country’s smaller communities, such as the Luo. However, others argue that the determining factors of this election lies in the big issues impacting the country such as the rising cost of living (recent price shock in staple food ugali), deteriorating corruption problems and increasing high unemployment.
To avoid voting rigging, a biometric system of voter identification has been introduced and it was believed by many in delivering transparent results. However, fear sparked last week when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission head of technology, Christ Msando, was found murdered and tortured in the outskirts of Nairobi. The death of Msando, a high profile figure promoting the transparency of the system with full access to it, raised suspicions that the election results could be interfered.
There is no certainty in the election to come. Strange things often occur during Kenyan elections. As thousands of city dwellers have been returning to their rural home to wait out the aftermath of the poll in relative safety, one can only hope for the best in a peaceful election outcome.