At the Polling Station in Kibera

Daniel Branch

The voters queuing outside the Olympic Primary School in Nairobi’s Kibera slum on 27 December were sure of two things. First, that if a free and fair election were held, Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) had sufficient support to win Kenya’s presidential and parliamentary elections. Second, that the polls would be fixed in order to ensure a second term of office for President Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU). On both counts, the crowd was right.

The polling station in Kibera – an opposition stronghold – was typical of many in this election. Queues began forming at 3 a.m., stretching back over a kilometre by the time the polling station opened at dawn. Similar queues across the country demonstrated the determination of the people to have their voices heard. The patience of those queuing in Kibera was gravely tested, however. The ballot boxes arrived late, leading to fears that those still in line when the polls closed at 5 p.m. would not be able to vote, and parts of the alphabet were entirely missing from the electoral register – mostly those letters that begin common Luo surnames. This contributed to a general sense of mismanagement and showed the frailty of the Electoral Commission of Kenya. Although voting was conducted peacefully, there was a foretaste of what would later transpire. Roadblocks manned by local civilians were put up on the one road into Kibera. All incoming cars were searched for stuffed ballot boxes or any sign that non-resident voters were being bussed in to boost support for the government. A commitment to the democratic process does not in Kenya preclude the use of violence.

Kenyans were simultaneously voting for local authority representatives, MPs and in the presidential ballot. In a state governed by a constitution that gives enormous powers to the president, it was the last poll that monopolised attention. Although nine candidates were listed on the ballot papers, only three mounted credible nationwide campaigns. Kibaki, Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka had been allies in the National Rainbow Coalition, which had defeated the hated Kenya African National Union (KANU) in the 2002 elections. The opposition to the authoritarian rule of Daniel arap Moi had divided along factional lines in 1992 and 1997: in 2002 the various leaders opposed to the continuation of KANU’s rule under Moi’s anointed successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, successfully united behind Kibaki.

Once in power, Kibaki’s clique reneged on promises of ministerial appointments for other members of the coalition. They sabotaged constitutional reforms that would have weakened the powers of the presidency and a watered-down draft constitution that left the influence of central government intact was eventually the subject of a referendum in 2005. The symbol on the ballot for the ‘No’ vote – championed by Odinga, Musyoka and other leaders – was an orange. Having won the referendum, the opposition took the orange as its label. Since then, the grouping has split into two factions – Odinga’s ODM and Musyoka’s ODM-Kenya. In order to shore up parliamentary support after the referendum, Kibaki made an alliance with KANU and its unpopular but wealthy former leaders.

With ODM fielding the largest number of candidates in the December elections and able to impose a degree of discipline on its candidates, there was little surprise among commentators and pollsters when it won the most parliamentary seats. In contrast to Odinga, Kibaki was unable to bring the disparate factions backing him under the umbrella of a single party, and in campaign rallies frequently had to try to calm supporters of rival groups who clashed during his speeches.

Each main candidate sought to discredit the other in expensive media campaigns, which by mid-December were estimated to have cost $20 million. Kibaki’s re-election effort alone topped $10 million. Who paid for these campaigns is an important question. Odinga in particular raised funds from the Kenyan diaspora in South Africa, Britain and North America, but the candidates’ campaign costs nevertheless ran far in excess of their apparent means. Many of the corruption scandals that engulfed Kibaki after 2002 have subsequently been linked to campaign funding during that election.

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