NAIROBI, Kenya – The spark for Kenya’s firestorm of ethnic violence was lit inside a cavernous meeting hall in downtown Nairobi, where election officials over four days doctored vote counts, dismissed eye-popping irregularities and thwarted monitoring by independent observers to deliver a razor-thin victory to President Mwai Kibaki.
Observers who were allowed into the vote-tallying center on Dec. 29-30, hours before the results were announced, said there was so much systematic fraud by Kenya’s government-appointed election commission that it’s impossible to know who really won.
The extent of the commission’s deceptions has faded into the background as more than 800 Kenyans have been killed in ethnic clashes and police crackdowns.
Official results gave Kibaki an edge of 231,728 votes, or 2 percentage points, out of about 10 million cast. Initial results of an exit poll by the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute found that rival Raila Odinga had won by a margin of 8 percentage points.
Election officials allowed five accredited Kenyan observers into the tallying center in Nairobi only in the final phase of vote-counting, and three of them shared their accounts with McClatchy. All said that the gravest cheating occurred in that room, where commissioners – all appointed by Kibaki – compiled returns before announcing them to the public.
The long-serving chairman of Kenya’s election commission played an active role in the deception, the observers said. When a tallying officer presented results showing voter turnout at 115 percent in Maragua, a Kibaki stronghold in the central highlands, commission Chairman Samuel Kivuitu didn’t invalidate the result as required by law, but allowed a commissioner to reduce the figure to 85 percent and announced the results an hour later.
That was the pattern that observers reported: Results were announced even when documents were missing, incomplete, unsigned by officers or party representatives, incorrectly tabulated, photocopied or forged.
“Both sides stole votes,” said Julius Melli, a 31-year-old Kenyan radiographer who witnessed the tallying of Maragua and other locales. “But Kibaki stole more, and they stole it inside the tallying center.”