Elections in Kenya aren’t quite like elections in the U.S., though we’ve been known to have our chaos here in the States too. Kenya, which is home to over 60 different tribes with their own culture, heritage, and language, often votes for political party alliances that primarily seem to represent tribes rather than issues. Ten years ago, the last time there was a challenger running against an incumbent, claims of voter fraud and governmental rigging sent the country into vicious tribal warfare, and over 1000 people nationwide died in the violence until the challenger was given a ceremonial government post. This year, Raila Odinga, the same challenger 4 elections in a row, lost again to Kenya’s current president.
We asked some of our staff members to share their experiences.
After the IEBC chairman announced that President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected, teargas was all over amidst cries of “No Raila No Peace.” Later on in the night police started their operations chasing people with an intention of calming the violence, at times using excessive force, beating people, throwing teargas everywhere in Obunga and other slums in Kisumu. But fortunately enough for me, I was locked inside my room, but could not escape from the bitter reality of the itching, choking smell of the teargas that knew not of a locked room, but could escape through the smallest space in my house. The smell of the teargas was the order of the day – at times I got worried about me and my fellow county residents, what would happen to us, but I thank God we are safe up to this day. Food has been scarce and the price high within this time.
|Riot police move along a street in the Kondele area of Kisumu, Kenya on Wednesday (photo from AP)
It was 10 pm Friday night before IEBC announced the presidential final result. Everything was calm, but tension was high, most of the people thinking the result might be nullified because of the complaint of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who complained about the hack of the IEBC database. Suddenly, though Kenyan law does not allow results to be announced at night, the IEBC chairman declared President Uhuru to be the winner. Most people went out shouting against the declaration, but the security was already deployed everywhere, with teargas, bullets, and some police using horses.
I stay near the road at Nyalenda estate in Kisumu. I heard gunshots, and people crying for justice, but the police men did not care about that. Some police officers decided to break in the people’s houses, beating everyone, some were throwing teargas inside the estate. They poured water full of teargas smell on the top of my house. It was horrible that night – even the domestic animals were in trouble. That night because the serious raids by police officers, some people decided to go stay in churches because their lives were in danger. One of my neighbor’s kids was beaten by police after they threw teargas in the front of their door. She was taken to the hospital where she died. Her name was Pendo! It’s very sad for an innocent baby, 6 years old, to die for no reason. And most people still have injury in their forehead, arms, ribs. The people most affected were women and children. Now the petition is still in the court. We don’t know the outcome, but people are still afraid for their lives because the chaos might erupt again. We need your prayer guys.
In the last two decades, there was only one election that was not disputed. Kenyans have always felt that their democratic rights have been violated. This year’s election had high expectations as the current government had failed to deliver most of its promises to the people. I could hear people waking up as early as 3am, though the polling stations were to open at 6am, just to go and queue to cast their votes on time.
|Policemen walk past tires set on fire in Kisumu on Wednesday (photo by Reuters/Baz Ratner)
The voting process went on well until the time when results started streaming on the screens. The voting pattern in Kenya is never consistent, because there are strongholds for the government and opposition. What was alarming as results continued to stream in was the constant margin of 11% until the time Uhuru was declared the winner. At one point, the opposition raised concerns, and even alleged that the IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission) servers had been hacked and compromised to produce such results. The IEBC chairman assured Kenyans that the results they were watching on their screens were provisional, as they had not been verified.
Raila’s campaign said that the results being showed on the screens were not genuine and that the results they had tallied showed that Raila Odinga was ahead. There were very minimal movements in town. The majority of people were indoor glued to their TVs. Nobody knew what was going to take place within the next few minutes. I could hear the sound of a helicopter hovering around the town in readiness for the protests, being that Kisumu is an opposition stronghold and perceived as violent hotspot.
At the moment they declared Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner using the results that they had denied as unofficial, people walked out of their houses to protest. There was a moment of confusion and all I could hear were cries and mourning. People went to the road, lit tires. It went on for about 45 minutes before the police engaged the protesters in running battles. Teargas was thrown everywhere and I could not hide from its choking. Gunshots buried the air. Screams, running, and gunshots were the order now.
|Opposition supporters from from police in Kisumu on August 9th (photo by AFP/Kevin Midigo)
I went to my bed though I could not sleep. I asked God for protection because I did not know what could happen any moment. I can’t tell whether I was dreaming or sleeping. One thing that I know is that my mind was awake all that night. At around 2am, I was waked up again by the sounds of gunshots. This time it was like a battlefield. I took my phone and checked my Facebook, and I saw posts that made me freeze. My friends said that men were being pulled out of the houses and tortured by the police. I could hear bitter screams from a distance. I could hear the doors being broken. I thought of any hiding place, but I could not find any. I resolved that if I had to undergo anything then I was ready to face it in my house. The operation went on for around two hours. Luckily, they never reached our area. I could not sleep because I did not know their next move. I can only describe that night as a night of terror. Our only crime was to cast our votes against the government.
We woke very early in the morning to queue in the long lines and hot sun, ready to practice our democratic right of choosing our leaders, an activity that only takes place every five years in this our beloved country. Evening came and you could really tell that people were ready for a transformative change in the leadership of this country. A few days later the commission announced the presidential results. This was one of the worst experiences of my life as men and women were wailing, shouting, and crying immediately after the declaration. Within two minutes the police helicopter was in the air patrolling, followed by gunshots everywhere in the midst of the night. It was a scary experience as one could imagine how many people could be killed over the night by the police.
At around 4:00am a new group of security officers were deployed. People believed that they were part of Kenya’s army since they straight away started breaking into houses bringing men out and mercilessly torturing them. In some other areas they raped women.
I took my family to our rural home and sometimes spent the night at the church, which for a while became the refugee camp for some people. After awhile the opposition decided to solve the electoral issues through the courts. Though things have completely settled, we’re patiently waiting for the judges of the Supreme Court to use wisdom to bring justice and peace back to this lovely country.