THE AFRICA BAZAAR magazine
August 7, 2017
As Kenyans head to the ballots on Tuesday for the country’s presidential election, former U.S. President Barack Obama called on Kenyan leaders and people not to backslide into tribalism and ethnic politics that once divided the country.
“I urge Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people; urge security forces to act professionally and neutrally; and work together no matter the outcome,” Mr. Obama said in a statement issued by his office. “I urge all Kenyans to work for an election – and aftermath – that is peaceful and credible, reinforcing confidence in your new Constitution and the future of your country. Any disputes around the election should be resolved peacefully, through Kenya’s institutions and the rule of law.”
Mr. Obama’s statements evince the concerns that many stakeholders, both on the continent as well as in the international community, have as the country’s national election enters its final leg in the presidential race between incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, who once again is facing opposition leader and his longtime rival Ralia Odinga.
President Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga, who served as Prime Minister Kenya from 2008 – 2013, first faced off during the 2013 Kenya’s Presidential election.
The 2017 election is expected to be a close call between the two candidates. Given Kenya’s rapid descent into violence and near civil war in the aftermath of the 2002 national election, observers are concerned about potential ballot and voter-identification system irregularities on election day, which could reopen a barely healed wound for Kenyan people. More than a 1,000 people were killed and many more were injured in the aftermath of that election.
Election observers and political analysts say anything other than an orderly, and peaceful ballot casting and smooth functioning of the biometry voter-identification system on election day could result in a political fallout.
Though the country has taken necessary precautions such as installing and updating its voting system to ensure that the election is credible, the recent death of a Kenyan election official, Christopher Msando, who was found dead last week-apparently murdered, has raised new concerns among those observing the election.
Mr. Msando, who worked in IT, oversaw the department that is responsible for certifying Kenya’s biometrics voter-ID system and election result-transmission technology.
He was killed just days prior to the electoral management board inspecting the voter-ID systems ahead of the election.
The Amnesty International has called for an investigation into his death.
Mr. Obama, whose father was from Kenya, is a strong proponent of democracy and peaceful election on the African continent.
During his presidency, Mr. Obama’s administration launched new programs such as Power Africa initiative to improve trade relations between the US and Africa. The administration also built upon previous administrations’ multilateral as well as bilateral trade relations and programs such as African Growth Opportunity Acts, humanitarian and military supports programs with African countries. The Power Africa initiative helps incentivize U.S. investments in clean affordable electricity across the African continent.
Mr. Obama, who is very much beloved in Kenya and across African countries, first visited Kenya in 1987 to meet his father’s relatives. He visited the country again in 2015 during his fourth presidential trip to Africa, and met with President Kenyatta at the Presidential palace in Nairobi.
Mr. Obama underscored the significance of the current election in Kenya and urged all Kenyans to think of the progress the country has made in the last two decades since it underwent a peaceful transition of power in 2002, and how the choice they will make at the poll in this current election will affect their future generations.
“To move forward, Kenyans have to reject a politics of tribe and ethnicity, and embrace the extraordinary potential of an inclusive democracy. As Kenyans vote in your election, that choice is once again in your hands,” said Mr. Obama said in the statement.
“I hope you will choose to build on this inclusive spirit to further advance the gains that have been made, rather than putting them at risk. The choices you make in the coming days can either set Kenya back or bring it together. and As a friend of the Kenyan people, I urge you to work for a future defined not by fear and division, but by unity and hope,” said Mr. Obama.
© 2017 THEAFRICABAZAAR magazine, a publication of Imek Media, LLC. All rights reserved.