Thursday 19, October 2017 by Matthew Amlôt

Kenyan election: tensions ratchet up

We have seven days before the presidential election redo, but worrying headlines continue to appear.

A senior official of Kenya’s elector commission, Roselyn Akombe, resigned her post and fled to the United States. She told the BBC from New York that the electoral commission (IEBC) was under political ‘siege’, and has been unable to reach a consensus or take any decisions.

The IEBC has been a crucial part of the crisis that has engulfed Kenya following the announcement that Uhuru Kenyatta had won the disputed election in August. Akombe added that her decision to leave was also partly predicated on death threats that she had received in the run-up to the election.

These threats are not without precedent. The election commission’s IT head, Chris Msando, was murdered before the election in August. An autopsy found that he had been severely tortured and then strangled to death.

In a statement issued yesterday (18 October) Akombe said, “I have agonised over the decision to leave my committed IEBC FIELD staff and my country. My decision to leave the IEBC will disappoint some of you, but it is not for lack of trying.”

“Sometimes, you walk away, especially when potentially lives are at stake. The commission has become a party to the current crisis. The commission is under siege.”

“We need the commission to be courageous and speak out, that this election as planned cannot meet the basic expectations of a CREDIBLE election.

“Not 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 protestors. Not when Commissioners and staff are intimidated by political actors and protestors and fear for their lives.

“Not when senior Secretariat staff and Commissioners are serving partisan political interests. Not when the commission is saddled with endless legal cases in the courts, and losing most of them. Not when legal advice is skewed to fit partisan political interests. The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on October 26.”

Akombe’s resignation is another step into the political crisis that is gripping the country and follows the announcement a week ago by Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate, that he would withdraw from the elections on the basis that not enough reform has been enacted. Odinga had himself made complaints and threatened legal action against the IEBC, stating that the organisation has not made enough effort to reform the election process and guarantee and free and fair election.

The election in August was annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court on 1 September, and a new vote was ordered within 60 days. Previously presidential incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta had been announced as the winner with over 54 per cent of the vote.

The new election is set to cost the Kenyan taxpayer an estimated $117 million, whilst the disputed August election was the most expensive in the country’s history, and one of the most expensive in Africa, at $480 million.