from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – CONFLICT between the electoral commission and law enforcement agents, legal quandaries after an aspirant is locked out of the presidential race and potential violence have thrown preparations for Kenyan elections into disarray.
Polls are set for less than a fortnight in the East African country that is hailed as a model of stability and democracy in Africa but has an uncanny notoriety of shedding this status when polls are held.
The situation is relapsing.
Tensions are rising leading to the eagerly-awaited August 9 general elections in the region’s economic powerhouse with a population of 56 million people.
Last week, police arrested a “foreigner” at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the capital Nairobi with election-related stickers.
He is Venezuela international, Jose Gregorio Camargo Castellanos, nabbed at a time cops have assured readiness to deal with poll-related violence.
Bruno Shioso, police spokesperson, confirmed the arrest, justifying it by saying the arrested individual was not accompanied by Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Yet, the officers also arrested two other personnel who had been working for the commission and had gone to check on their colleagues.
The Venezuelan pair has been named as Joel Gustavo Rodriguez Garcia and Salvador Javier Sosa Suarez.
They were scheduled to appear before the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit.
The three contractors are working for the IEBC. They are from Smartmatic, the company the electoral commission has contracted for the polls.
The company is to supply, test and maintain software, hardware and accessories for the election.
IEBC is angered at the trio’s arrest.
The electoral agency stated that while the National Police Service informed the public that the stickers had been released to the commission, the said material had in fact been confiscated and retained by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit.
The implication, according to the commission, is that IEBC is unable to seamlessly prepare for the elections.
The confiscated items are said to be electronic items, including mobile phones, laptops and flash containing important and sensitive information relating to the forthcoming elections.
The arrested personnel reportedly were compelled to give passwords to the confiscated phones and gadgets.
“The commission is still troubled by the acts of the National Police Service and demands cessation of harassment of personnel of legitimately contracted service providers and calls for immediate release of all confiscated items,” Wafula Chebukati, IEBC chairman, said.
Musalia Mudavadi, a presidential hopeful from the opposition Amani National Congress (ANC), hailed the unfolding spat between the electoral agency and the police over the arrest of the election officials was “a clear show” of how the government of outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta determined to interfere with the August 9 elections.
“IEBC is an independent agency and should be allowed to fully prepare for the poll without any hindrance; least from the security agencies,” Mudavadi, the former Vice President and Deputy Prime Minister, said.
The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) this week warned of potential election-related violence, including sexual violence.
Naitore Nyamu-Mathenge, Kenya head of PHR, recalled elections in Kenya were synonymous with chaos and sexual violence, perpetrated by state and non-state actors.
“We must seize the opportunity to break with the past, deliver justice for past survivors, and safeguard human rights around the election,” said Nyamu-Mathenge said.
This week, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the IEBC after it locked out presidential aspirant Reuben Kigame.
The gospel singer and IEBC are embroiled in a spat as he alleges the electoral body is unfair to disabled persons as it has not developed regulations to assist persons with disability.
Visually-impaired Kigame is also singer, writer, producer and radio presenter.
The electoral body invalidated his candidature after his nomination fell less of the required 48 000 signatures.
This court challenge could have led to the postponement of the polls, provided Kigame won.
The cost of printing new ballot papers and rescheduling freight is projected at KSh 971 million (about US$57,8 million).
“This amount is not in the commission’s election budget,” Chebukati said.
He maintained the reassurance to delivering free, fair and credible elections that meets the democratic aspirations of Kenyans.
A disputed outcome form the general polls in 2007/08, which left hundreds of civilians dead.
Vote-rigging marred the last poll in 2017, prompting the courts to order a rerun.
Uhuru Kenyatta eventually retained power but is ineligible for the upcoming poll because of term limits.
Oddly, he has endorsed longtime rival, Raila Odinga, at the expense of his deputy, William Ruto.
– CAJ News