Last Tuesday, Nairobi felt like a city awaiting the apocalypse. Streets normally clogged with traffic were eerily quiet. Grocery-store shelves had been largely emptied of supplies. Anxious wealthy residents booked flights out of town, conveniently scheduling their summer vacations to avoid the chaos of a Kenyan national election. The Chinese government, Western private-sector companies, and other foreign investors braced as well. A peaceful vote in Kenya, which is regarded as the most vibrant economic and democratic power in East Africa, could unleash billions of dollars in infrastructure and development contracts. Kenya has had a long and calamitous history of political violence and corruption since it gained independence from British colonial rule, in 1963. Much of this conflict is rooted in ethnic tensions between different tribes, which many historians attribute, in part, to decades of British colonial rule that intentionally played major tribes against one another. Rich and poor Kenyans alike feared a repeat of the 2007 post-election violence between two of the country’s largest tribes, the Luo and Kikuyu, which killed more than twelve hundred people and displaced more than half a million.
In this year’s Presidential election, the Kikuyus and Luos were once again competing for the highest office in the land. Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent President, is a member of Kenya’s largest, and arguably most powerful, ethnic group, the Kikuyu. His opponent, Raila Odinga, is a member of the Luo, who live predominantly in western Kenya. This year’s race was Odinga’s fourth bid for Presidency. After each past loss, he has accused his victorious opponents of corruption and fraud. After his loss in 2013, he unsuccessfully challenged the final results in Kenya’s Supreme Court, citing the widespread failure of the country’s electronic voting system.
In an effort to insure fairness and prevent renewed violence, Kenya’s nonpartisan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, known as the I.E.B.C., was tasked with overseeing the country’s voting and tallying processes. But, just a week before the election, the police discovered the tortured and mutilated body of the I.E.B.C.’s head of information technology, Chris Msando, on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Full Article: Kenyan Democracy’s Missed Opportunity | The New Yorker.