Official’s “murder” overshadows Kenyan election

By on 02/08/2017
Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, accused of wrongdoing in the 2013 elections by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

A senior civil servant charged with overseeing Kenya’s electronic voting system has been found dead just days before the country’s presidential elections.

The body of Chris Msando, a senior information technology manager with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), was found in a forest outside Nairobi on Saturday, along with that of an unidentified woman. He had been missing since Friday.

IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati told reporters outside the city’s morgue on Monday that the body had been identified as Msando’s, according to Agence France Press.

“There was no doubt that he was tortured and murdered,” Chebukati said. “The only question in our mind is who [killed him] and why he was killed a few days to elections.”

Msando was in charge of a new electronic ballot and voter registration system at the IEBC and had been due lead a test run of the voting technology on Monday. The test has been postponed.

He has also appeared on television, explaining the voting system and assuring voters that the polls on 8 August would be fair.

Interest in the electronic voting system has been intense during the campaign after the system crashed repeatedly in the 2013 poll, prompting opposition leader Raila Odinga to claim electoral fraud. A court later rejected the complaint.

Raila Odinga, leader of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition of opposition parties, who claimed election fraud after 2013’s general election (Image courtesy: World Economic Forum)

After Kenya’s disputed 2007 general election, more than 1,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 were displaced in an outbreak of mass protests and ethnic violence.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Kenyan authorities to “urgently investigate” Msando’s death.

“Msando’s killing could have huge ramifications for Kenya’s elections given his pivotal roles in the preparations,” its Africa researcher Otsieno Namwaya, said in a statement on Monday. “The authorities need to investigate and to reassure Kenyans that the government is committed to a free and fair election.”

Msando was one of only a handful of officials who knew the IEBC’s computer system passwords and the exact location of servers used to run the election, said HRW. He had been promoted to acting director of information and communications technology in May, after the commission’s then director was suspended for failing to comply with a systems audit.

Principal secretary for the interior Dr Karanja Kibicho pledged to provide “state security” for election officials and observers at a joint meeting with the Editor’s Guild and election observers in Nairobi on Monday, according to Kenyan newspaper the Standard. He denied opposition claims that the army would be involved in the election.

Inspector general of police Joseph Boinnet said the police would provide security and enforce IEBC regulations before and during the election. “We started preparations for this exercise a year ago,” he said. “We have drawn up a national security strategy from regions to counties to sub-county level.”

Inspector Boinnet appealed to Kenyans to come forward with any information about Msando’s death yesterday, Kenyan newspaper The Star reported. He said detectives were investigating the case and a post-mortem would take place shortly.

A police spokesman confirmed that Msando had left a phone message at a police station saying his life was in danger before he disappeared. His body was naked and had injuries to the head, neck, back and right hand when it was found on Saturday, according to The Star.

The entrance to Kenya’s Parliament Buildings in Nairobi (Image courtesy: Jorge Lascar).

In a joint statement, British and US envoys offered assistance in the murder investigation.

British High Commissioner Nic Hailey and US Ambassador Robert F Godec expressed “grave concern” at the murder. “It is critical that Kenya have free, fair, credible and peaceful election on August 8 and protection to IEBC staff is essential to achieving this goal,” they said.

The presidential election has been a tight contest between the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga. Next week’s election will also see the election of a deputy president, members of the Senate and National Assembly, county governors and ward representative.

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About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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