Kenyans keep the faith, but for how long?

Although country’s streets remain calm, tension is undeniably rising as the country awaits election results.

Kenyans cast their ballots on Monday, but technical problems have slowed the vote count [AFP]
Kenyans cast their ballots on Monday, but technical problems have slowed the vote count [AFP]

Nairobi, Kenya – While pundits and politicians are getting more and more frustrated with the lack of a result in Kenya’s election, the people of this nation seem determined to wait it out.

As tension rises in campaign offices, aspiring political leaders have begun flinging mud at their opponents, at “foreign forces”, at the IEBC – Kenya’s electoral commission – and anywhere else they think it may stick.

The CORD coalition, headed by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, has claimed voting tallies have been doctored and ballot boxes were stuffed in several areas. Meanwhile Uhuru Kenyatta‘s Jubilee alliance has claimed British officials interfered to force the vote to a second round.

With little evidence of any actual conspiracy being cooked up by either side, most of Kenya’s “ordinary citizens” are demonstrating a calm patience.

“I believe that voting was done in a credible and transparent manner,” communications graduate Isaiah Moses told Al Jazeera.

“I am also of the opinion that counting of the results has also been conducted in a transparent way. This is because different political parties and candidates had their agents present at all the polling stations.”

Most Kenyans seem willing to accept that delays in counting up the votes have been the result of genuine system failures, rather than any act of malevolence.

“The delay is not good at all, but as an individual I trust the IEBC and appreciate that the commission accepted that they had challenges with the electronic result transmission,” said 24-year-old Moses.

On this point, John, an artist from Naivasha, agrees.

“The IEBC has been honest,” the 28-year-old told Al Jazeera. “Yesterday the IEBC commissioner came out and talked about how they had problems. We have not been made aware of problems behind the scenes, but I’m pretty sure that the result [of the manual count] will be the right one.”

Frustration rises

John’s friend, humanitarian worker Ronald said he knew people who were getting impatient.

“I am a little impatient myself,” said the 34-year-old. “But I still have hope in the IEBC. I want to let the IEBC do their work. They have seven days – let them take their time, to get the correct results.”

I have been out today and it is true that the so-called ‘tension rising’ is currently [occurring only] within political walls.”

– Vincent Kimosop, legal officer

But Moraa Bichage, a marketing entrepreneur from Nairobi, said that the IEBC had failed to effectively tell Kenyans about the faults with their system, and that is what had led to uncertainty across the country.

“The IEBC has not communicated well the reasons behind the delay, and people just want to know who has won – they’re not interested in the difficulties of getting an answer, in why it’s taking so long,” she told Al Jazeera.

“I think the impatience is fuelled by people not knowing what’s going on. The IEBC needs to communicate more clearly to Kenyans. The tally has always been manual, not automatic – it’s a very tedious process, and we have to be patient. It’s only been three days.”

Vincent Kimosop is the chief executive officer of the International Institute for Legislative Affairs here in Nairobi.

He said the streets remained calm.

“I have been out today and it is true that the so-called ‘tension rising’ is currently [occurring only] within political walls,” he told Al Jazeera.

“This is not helped because of the time that the process has taken, since the [IEBC] chair had indicated that the results would be known within 48 hours.”

He pointed out that the law allows the electoral body seven days to declare the election’s outcome. After that, if a party is not satisfied, they can lodge a complaint with the Supreme Court within 14 days.

Measuring the mood

John the artist said he and his friends were glued to their TVs trying to gauge the mood around Kenya. The call from the CORD coalition to abandon the count was likely to provoke unrest, he said.

“There is a possibility that tension will go up, and temperatures will rise,” he said.

“Then when one party makes allegations, people begin to feel more anxious and more likely to vent their frustrations. Actually these sort of statements should not be made, because this is what encourages people maybe to be violent.”

Moraa the marketer said that violence remained unlikely.

“I don’t think we’ll have chaos, even if the announcement is delayed until Monday,” she said. “People are frustrated because it’s taking so long, not because of the result.

“Political leaders should be more responsible with the language they use, and have more faith in the system. That message could easily get distorted, and they need to be very clear with their evidence. Let them provide the evidence, that would be responsible.

“With supporters hanging on their every word, they need to be more responsible. They need to address problems with the IEBC before they bring this to the people.”

Humanitarian Ronald, who said he didn’t want to have his full name published out of fear of post-election reprisals, said that, despite the apparent calm, great apprehension was bubbling under society’s surface.

“People in town are talking in whispers, people feel uncomfortable,” he told Al Jazeera. “People seem to be retracting into tribal groups. When they whisper, they are speaking their mother tongue, not English or Swahili.

“My friends are starting to get angry with each other, and some are bringing up tribal issues. This is really not helpful.

“The IEBC should have educated Kenyans to manage their expectations… The IEBC chairman should not have given out deadlines he could not keep.”

And what about the CORD withdrawing support for the tallying process?

“They feel they have been wronged,” said Ronald. “Literate Kenyans will look at this statement in whole, which appeals for calm. But illiterate Kenyans may not understand, and it makes tensions rise. So far, most people are cool. But it’s good that Raila himself is not giving out a statement, or tension will really rise quickly.”

While all agreed that it was “wrong to keep Kenyans waiting”, as John from Naivasha said, those who spoke to Al Jazeera also said that a return to the scenes of 2007-08 were impossible.

“We don’t have a problem,” said Moraa. “I don’t think we’re waiting too long. I think people are getting impatient just because they want to know if their candidate will win.”

It is these “ordinary Kenyans” who will face the results of these delays, positive or negative

“Kenyans now have the experience of electoral mismanagement, particularly at the tallying stage,” said ILA chief Kimosop.

“They are the ones who suffer more, and they want to see this thing concluded as soon as possible, and then move on with their lives. This should be within this week – and latest, tomorrow.”

Follow James Brownsell on Twitter: @JamesBrownsell

Source: Al Jazeera


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