Within a week of the poll, more than 400 people have officially been bludgeoned, hacked, or burned to death — the real number is certainly many times higher, and as of this writing continues to rise. Throughout the country, police stations and churchyards have become desperate refugee camps populated by people whose neighbours would now like to kill them. The Red Cross is unable to bring food or water to these refugees, estimated by Mr. Gullet to number more than a million, because Kenya’s highway system has been shut down by vigilantes manning armed road blocks. What began as a spontaneous eruption of political fury in response to a clumsily rigged election has degenerated into a national looting spree.
How did it come to this? Most Kenyans are asking themselves the same question. Until just before New Year’s Eve, Kenya’s peaceful reputation stood in uplifting contrast to neighbours like Somalia and Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda. The 2002 election was an orderly event that swept away decades of one-party rule, leading to five years of press freedom, free primary education, and many more right-minded developments. The Electoral Commission of Kenya, hired to oversee the 2007 poll, was headed by a man held in universal esteem, the wry-witted Samuel Kivuitu. Thousands of domestic and international observers were invited to make sure nobody cheated.
Regardless, many people did. What began as an orderly election day was followed by a suspiciously long counting period. All across the country, electoral officers mysteriously turned their cell phones off and disappeared with the official counts. Some waited two days to resurface with up to 20,000 more votes for the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, than EU observers had recorded in their presence.
As results trickled in, opposition leader Raila Odinga watched his lead over Kibaki dwindle from over a million to half a million, then three hundred thousand, then forty thousand votes. As both sides called on each other to accept defeat, the slums housing half Nairobi’s population began preparing for war. Youths armed themselves with machetes, sticks, pipes and arrows; rumours flew by SMS, radio, television and word of mouth. Time accelerated and confusion gripped the country, but one thing grew increasingly, uncomfortably clear: someone was manipulating the results.
As one newswoman put it, “in the old days, at least these things happened behind closed doors. This time they did it right out in front of everyone, then asked us not to notice. It’s an insult to our intelligence.”
Late on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 30, three days after Kenyans cast their ballots, Samuel Kivuitu announced that Mwai Kibaki had won the election by slightly more than 200,000 votes. Half an hour later, he was being sworn in to office before a preassembled crowd of dignitaries. By the time the ceremony was over, the Ministry of Information had issued a ban on live broadcasts to all television and radio stations, cutting off Raila Odinga’s televised press conference in mid-sentence
The slums had already begun to burn.
In a rare display of punctuality, voting began and finished on times at most polls across the country, allowing clerks to start counting ballots before dark on Dec. 27. Each candidate was permitted two observing agents.
Only two serious contenders vied for the presidency, but with more than 117 parties registered for civic and parliamentary seats, counting went well into the night.
Most stations finished counting by midnight, at which point the results were to be ferried to constituency headquarters. At last, the cheating could begin; this gymnasium in Nairobi was but one of many headquarters where agents and observers waited in vain for tallies that wouldn’t show up until the following evening.
By Friday afternoon, the day after the vote, the waiting game assumed lethal overtones in slums like Kibera.
A handful of lynchings precipitated military deployment to the troubled slums.
Peace-minded residents watched fearfully as gangs began to mobilize and maraud in slums throughout the country.
Where there are mobs, there are tire fires.
Saturday came and still no news; riot police were now manning checkpoints throughout the city.