Deadly Protests Erupt in Kenya After Claims of Rigged Election
Memories of past unrest have loomed over this election.
With 98% of the votes counted in Kenya’s presidential election, it seems that the incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta will be returning to power.
Both the African Union and Commonwealth have said that Tuesday’s vote appears credible.
"We believe that the election has been conducted in a transparent and credible manner and that Kenyans must be commended for that election," Commonwealth observer mission head and Ghana's ex-President John Mahama said at a press conference in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.
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But protests over the election’s results have erupted across the country, leading to violent clashes between civilians and security forces, leaving at least five people dead so far.
Protesters throughout the country have created blockades in streets with trash fires and boulders and demanded that the election be reviewed.
In Nairobi, two people were shot and killed amid protests that devolved into looting, according to the regional police chief Larry Kieng. Further south, police shot at demonstrators and used tear gas, according to one protester. Five men armed with knives in Tana River region stabbed people at a vote tallying station, killing one person, Al Jazeera reported.
Kenya has a bloody history of election unrest. In 2007, more than 1,300 people were killed and 600,000 displaced following an uprising disputing that year’s election results. In 2013, voting machines throughout the country malfunctioned, inviting accusations of fraud.
"There is tension after every election,” Hussein Ibrahim, a resident of the capital Nairobi, told Al Jazeera. “That's why all these shops are closed and why no one is coming out of their homes.”
"No one is going out because they don't know what could happen next,” he said
Fully aware of this grim history, voting officials took precautions such as standardizing machines, enhancing digital security, improving voter registration and verification protocols, and training more people to carry out and monitor the election.
They also deployed security forces to areas where unrest was expected.
But that wasn’t enough to deter suspicions that the will of the people was being undermined.
Long before the vote began on Tuesday, the opposition leader Raila Odinga seeded fears that the election would be rigged. Odinga has ran for president and lost four times, and his doubts about the country’s ability to oversee an election has grown with each bid.
He renewed his accusations as the votes came rolling in and his defeat seemed imminent by claiming that Kenyatta’s Jubilee party had hacked the election and tampered with voter rolls.
"The fraud Jubilee has perpetuated on Kenyans surpasses any level of voter theft in our country's history. This time we caught them," Odinga tweeted.
These accusations gained a lurid dimension when it was learned that a top election official was tortured and killed days before the election. Odinga said that Kenyatta’s supporters used the victim’s identity to hack the election.
The Jubilee party, meanwhile, has said that the vote was carried out fairly and is seeking to placate the unrest.
"We assure Kenyans and all residents, the country is safe and I urge everyone to go on freely with their daily chores," Kenya's interior minister, Fred Matiangi, said in a statement.
More than 50% of Kenyans receive their news through social media, where “fake news” and conspiracy theories are rampant, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Matiangi said that the country may temporarily shut down social media platforms to limit the spread of misinformation, hate speech, and incitement.
Across the country, Kenyans are worried that the unrest could spiral into something far bloodier than it has.
"I hope this ends quickly because we need to go back to work and feed our families," Nancy Odongo, another resident of Nairobi, told Al Jazeera.
"Elections are always bad news for us poor people,” she added. “I have to pay bills and feed my children. I don't care who wins."