Kenya is sliding toward a potentially violent political crisis over opposition allegations that hackers interfered with provisional vote tallies from Tuesday’s general elections.
The normally bustling streets of Nairobi, the capital and business hub of East Africa’s biggest economy, were largely deserted Thursday as residents stayed home bracing for trouble and security forces deployed in the city center. Tension was heightened after the election commission released initial results showing President Uhuru Kenyatta with a commanding lead over his main rival, Raila Odinga, only to later say the tallies were unofficial.
Odinga described the results as “fake” and said hackers gained access to the election computer system by using the identity of the commission’s technology manager who was murdered in late July. The chairman of the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission, Wafula Chebukati, said Thursday that hackers tried and failed to breach the voting system.
“Hacking was attempted but didn’t succeed,” he told reporters in Nairobi.
The controversy has set the stage for a repeat of the election-related violence that has stalked Kenya since it became a multiparty democracy in 1991. In the worst outbreak, ethnic clashes left at least 1,100 people dead after a disputed 2007 vote. The statements by Odinga, who’s lost three previous presidential elections, suggest he may refuse to accept the final result.
Read QuickTake on what’s a stake in the election
“The presidential election has been compromised by irregularities in vote reporting and allegations of tampering with the electoral management system,” Robert Besseling, director at Johannesburg-based risk analysts Exx Africa, said in an emailed note. “It is very likely that the opposition will reject the final results and step up its allegations of electoral fraud.”
Odinga, 72, and Kenyatta, 55, are vying to lead a country that’s the world’s largest exporter of black tea and a regional hub for companies includingGoogle Inc. and General Electric Co. Previous upheaval around elections has taken a toll on the economy, which slowed to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier.
Financial markets shrugged off the prospects of a disputed result, with the FTSE NSE Kenya 25 Index of stocks advancing for a third straight day on Thursday and heading for its highest close since July 2015. The yield on the nation’s 10-year Eurobonds and the shilling were little changed.
Interior Secretary Fred Matiang’i said there have been no major incidents since the election, while the security forces are prepared to deal with any incidents. The Star, a Nairobi-based newspaper, said there were protests in the eastern Nairobi suburb of Mathare, where demonstrators clashed with police and lit fires on roads.
Much of the blame for the controversy lies with the electoral commission, according to Ndung’u Wainaina, executive director of the International Center for Policy and Conflict in Nairobi.
Its failure to explain the provisional nature of the vote count and how the transmission of results works has “demonstrated a high level of incompetence,” he said by phone. “They can’t communicate with clarity. They have made this whole situation messy unnecessarily.” IEBC spokesman Andrew Limo didn’t respond to a text message sent by Bloomberg seeking comment on the criticism.
Under the commission’s system, votes for the presidency, governors and senators from 40,883 polling stations are counted, verified and announced at the nation’s 290 constituency centers. Chairman Chebukati has said tallies posted on the commission’s website are provisional and official results will be announced once the verification and validation of votes is completed within the next five days.
Preliminary results from 40,122 polling stations show Kenyatta has 54.3 percent of the vote, compared with 44.9 percent for Odinga, according to the IEBC’s website. His coalition demanded the commission halt the streaming of the presidential election tally.
The opposition said it found evidence that hackers manipulated the results by gaining access to the commission computer systems using passwords belonging to Chris Msando, a commission technology manager who was tortured and murdered in July, and commission Chairman Chebukati.
“Msando’s murder and the discrepancies in the IEBC’s provisional results have essentially compromised the entire election,” Besseling said.
The revelation that Msando, who was responsible for the body’s electronic-vote transmission system, was tortured has fueled suspicions the electoral system was open to manipulation, said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft.
If confirmed, a wide margin of victory for Kenyatta may undermine the claims of foul play by the opposition National Super Alliance, known as Nasa, according to Ahmed Salim, vice president at research firm Teneo Strategy in Dubai.
“The level of technical detail released by Nasa on the alleged hack raises questions over how the team was able to investigate this sort of information in less than 24 hours after the supposed event,” Salim said by email. “In any case, doubts over the results have now been implanted in the minds of Nasa’s core support base, setting the possibility for a legal challenge.”