On August 8, millions of Kenyans formed long, orderly lines outside polling stations across the country to vote in presidential and local elections. Kenya is notorious for corruption, and virtually all prior elections had been marred by rigging. This time, however, the US and Kenya’s other donors had invested $24 million in an electronic vote-tallying system designed to prevent interference. When Kenya’s electoral commission announced on August 11 that President Uhuru Kenyatta had won another five-year term with over 54 percent of the vote, observer teams from the African Union, the European Union, and the highly respected US-based Carter Center, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, commended the electoral process and said they’d seen no evidence of significant fraud. Congratulations poured in from around the world and Donald Trump praised the elections as fair and transparent.
But not everyone was happy. Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition National Super Alliance party, or NASA, declared the election a sham as soon as the results began coming in. On August 18, he submitted a petition asking Kenya’s Supreme Court to annul it and order a re-vote. The petition claims, among other things, that nearly half of all votes cast had been tampered with; that NASA’s agents, who were entitled by law to observe the voting and counting, had been thrown out of polling stations in Kenyatta strongholds; and that secret, unofficial polling stations had transmitted fake votes. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on September 1, but on August 29, the court registrar reported that some 5 million votes, enough to affect the outcome, were not verified.
Signs that something weird was going on emerged well before the election. A month earlier, Kenya’s electoral commission contracted Ghurair, a Dubai publishing firm, to print ballots. Newspaper reports linked the company to Kenyatta’s inner circle, and Kenyan courts ordered the electoral commission to use a different firm. The order was ignored, and the electoral commission issued a single-source contract to Ghurair anyway, citing time pressure. Then the accounting firm KPMG reported that more than a million dead people might still be registered as voters. NASA officials complained that Ghurair could print extra ballots to be used to create pro-Kenyatta ghost votes. Kerry dismissed these concerns, quipping after the election, “The people who voted were alive. I didn’t see any dead people walking around.”
Ten days before the election, the brutally tortured corpse of the electoral commission’s IT manager, Chris Msando, was discovered in some bushes outside Nairobi. CCTV footage shows his car roaming around the city for hours in the middle of the night before he died. Also in the car were two men and a woman, whose dead body was discovered beside Msanado’s, suggesting a “love triangle” explanation. Many Kenyans expressed skepticism. Msando managed the electronic system for transmitting results from polling stations, and he’d been complaining to the police of death threats for weeks. Kenya’s donors, including the EU’s ambassador to Kenya, praised the government for its commitment to investigating the murders, though many Kenyans suspected the police of being involved in them. But when the US and UK offered to help with the investigation, the police declined. Kerry warned the opposition not to politicize the killing.