18 March 2013

Talkin' Kenya Election Blues with Ken Opalo

Uhuru Kenyatta may have won the Kenyan presidential election, but the dust has yet to settle.

He barely made it past the 50 percent mark to avoid a runoff with the current Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The election itself exceeded and fell below expectations. Violence did not follow, as some warned, and the voter turnout was much higher than predicted. What looked like a likely runoff between Odinga and Kenyatta appears to be over.

All of this raises some new questions.

I spoke with Kennedy Opalo to hear about his personal experience voting in the election, why the turnout was higher than expected and what may come next following the final results.

Opalo is a Nairobi native who is presently studying for his Political Science PhD at Stanford University as the Susan Ford Dorsey Fellow. He also writes the popular blog Opalo’s Weblog, a vital resource on issues regarding Kenyan politics. In the run up to the election, Opalo published analysis of the campaigns and opinion polls. Read on for his view of the process and where this is all headed.

What was your experience like in terms of voting? How did people you know feel about the campaign, election, media coverage and vote tally?
I waited for three hours to vote. And this was in a relatively sparsely populated area of Nairobi. I heard stories of people who got in line at 5 AM and did not vote until in the early afternoon.
The campaigns this time were not any different from the past. Real issues took a back burner and were instead replaced by veiled calls for ethnic unity in the respective alliances against unnamed enemies, historical injustices, and straw men. The big media houses did not explicitly take sides but it was evident in the courage which of the two main coalitions were favored by the respective editorial teams. 
With 2007 fresh on everyone’s mind the media went overdrive with messages of peace. After voting this was extended to the censoring of anything that was considered inflammatory. While this was commendable, to some extent it went a little too far – especially when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was experiencing massive problems with the tallying process; the media did not independently verify the results and censored any substantive discussions of what the faults in the electronic system meant for the integrity and eventual outcome of the election. 
The failure of the electronic tallying system exposed a serious lapse in the IEBC’s ability to deliver credible elections. Sources close to the commission have admitted that when the system was tested the Friday before the election it failed, yet the commission decided to go live on Monday anyway. I don’t think the system meltdown affected the eventual result – a (Parallel Vote Tabulation) PVT done by Elections Observation Group (ELOG) confirmed IEBC’s findings – but it raised concerns over IEBC’s vulnerability to manipulation.