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Africa Confidential, January 2008

Inside Kenya's elections 2008
An eyewitness account of the announcement of the results at the Kenya Conference Centre

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After the long wait for the presidential election results, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, announced in the late afternoon of 30 December that Mwai Kibaki had won the election after all with 4,584,721 votes, versus 4,352,993 for Raila Odinga, and 879,903 for Kalonzo Musyoka. Kivuitu gave the results to a small gathering of officials and journalists from the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) after his earlier attempts to announce the disputed results had been called off due to scuffles at the press conference. It was clear that announcing the results would be just the first step in a drawn-out battle.

On 29 December, Kivuitu asked each party to nominate two officials to work overnight with ECK staff on all the disputed presidential figures, mostly in Eastern Province but also in Coast and Central. It seemed to all of us like the best thing to do.

We had expected a reconciliation of the figures and the results in the early morning. Everyone waited at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, where the results were to be announced - the press, party officials, observers, etc. -but Kivuitu did not show up until about five in the afternoon, indicating that serious problems had arisen.

In the meantime, a sombre-looking Raila Odinga, the Orange Democratic Movement's presidential candidate, addressed the press at the Conference Centre. He said that the election was about to be stolen but that Kenyans would not stand for it. He made a passionate plea to Kibaki to stop the announcement of false election results. That was what had led to war in Côte d'Ivoire, he added ominously.

Then ECK Chairman Kivuitu came into the KICC and started reading the results of the presidential elections in the Molo and Kajiado constituencies to the accompaniment of barracking from ODM supporters in the hall. As temperatures rose, ODM supporters shouted at Kivuitu that they would not allow him to announce false results. Then all hell broke loose. The conference centre erupted in chaos. The paramilitary General Service Unit entered the building with truncheons and night sticks raised.

Journalists and ODM supporters mounted the dais where Kivuitu and the other Election Commissioners were sitting, and one activist wrested the microphone from the ECK Chairman. Then the disconsolate Chairman and Commissioners walked out of the hall followed by an eager pack of journalists. Dozens of baton-wielding police joined the throng as Kivuitu and his officials tried to push through the maze of corridors in the conference centre.

Then Kivuitu and his officials were bundled into a lift and police blocked off the area to journalists. Back in the main hall at the International Conference Centre, the ODM had taken over proceedings. Its leader in the Rift Valley, William Ruto was disputing the ECK's version of the presidential election results in these constituencies. He read out the results that had been announced in the constituencies - and witnessed by Kenyan and foreign election observers. The results produced by the ECK in Nairobi - and which Kivuitu had been announcing - had been inflated by at least 20,000 in each constituency, he said.

Ruto accused the ECK of being party to electoral fraud at the highest level - among the Commissioners themselves. He then introduced a witness to the hall, a parliamentary civil servant who had been seconded to the ECK. This man said that he had seen officials at the ECK alter the results received from polling stations and that his conscience would not allow him to keep silent.

Meanwhile in another part of the conference centre, Kivuitu was holding his own private press conference which was being broadcast live on KBC. Most of the press and party agents had been excluded from this exclusive gathering.

When Kivuitu gave the results, he lamented that losers were never able to take defeat easily. He had the official ECK tally and was ready to defend it in court. Kenya was dear to all of us, but stability cannot be taken for granted. He did concede that some issues would have to be addressed: 'ODM had raised some weighty matters...but the recommendations that they are asking ECK to make are way beyond its powers as they belong to the courts'. Any challenge to the results announced by the ECK should be taken to the courts, Kivuitu said. This implied that there had been flaws in the counting process - on which ECK was not qualified to pass judgement.

Minutes later, Kivuitu was whisked away in a black limousine with the Chief of Police, Hussein Ali, to State House where he was to present the ECK's certificate of the election results. Then Kibaki was sworn in as president at a bizarre, almost impromptu ceremony in the grounds of State House. As Kibaki was swearing the oath, a television camera crew was setting up behind him.

Kibaki's inauguration in 2002 in Uhuru Park had been a joyous if chaotic event, a celebration of democracy and of the will of Kenya's voters. In contrast, this inauguration was almost clandestine: no crowds, no wananchi, just a few glum-looking bureaucrats and judges. Standing alongside Kibaki were some political advisers, such as Professor Nick Wanjohi, the Vice-Chancellor Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, intelligence chiefs, the top brass of the armed forces and the chief of police. For many of those watching on television, the swearing-in resembled nothing more than a civilian coup d'etat. Kibaki, with little enthusiasm and not hint of irony, thanked Kenyans for giving him a second chance to serve them.