Voting in a time of fear and anger is not normal

Monday August 7 2017

Kenyan voters participate in a mock voting as

Kenyan voters participate in a mock voting as part of preparations for the August 8, 2017 General Election. PHOTO | STEVE NJUGUNA | NMG 

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In a normal world, we’d be preparing to cast our votes Tuesday and resume work Wednesday—with our ears and eyes paying attention to the results as they come in.

And be ready to either resume life under the incumbents. Or welcome in a new government. With little disruption to our daily lives.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a normal world. We live in a world in which it’s possible for persons unknown to abduct and murder a key elections official. An elections official responsible, in this instance, for no less than the very systems meant to protect our vote.

Our reaction was shock and sympathy—for him, for his family, for his colleagues. As well as for the young woman whose body was found near his—her family, her colleagues.

Our reaction was also fear—that these murders were evidently meant to also provoke. Fear about the lengths to which persons unknown are apparently prepared to go to achieve their electoral ends. Because we could all imagine the terror that these murders must have spread within the electoral management body.

There is a huge difference between public critique of the EMB, intended to ensure its readiness to act—and to act in the public interest, not the interests of either political side. And this—actual violence towards its staff. Public critique was to be expected. Actual violence crosses the line.

This is the world within which ordinary Kenyans are expected to go to cast their vote, to express their choice. This is the world in which the EMB is expected to do its duty—according to the Constitution and the law.

When, all around us, politicians and public officials are urging all kinds of breaches of the Constitution and the law. Supposedly in the interest of peace. But potentially at the cost of many of our constitutional rights.

Everybody says we don’t want chaos and violence. But we seem not to understand how best to avoid it. Starting with all public institutions doing their jobs—in the public, not political, interest. With all public servants living up to their codes of conduct and staying well out of the political fray.

With all politicians desisting—not from expression of legitimate concerns or critique of these public institutions but from wild insinuations about them not backed by any perceptible evidence.

It is failure to do all the above that created the atmosphere in which these murders could happen.

It is failure to do all the above that has so significantly ratcheted up the public anger and fear that we all now feel. With the result that it is not just expatriates who’ve fled for the duration but also Kenya’s upper-class and working-class—especially those in the low-income areas designated as “hotspots.”

Voluntary displacements are also happening across the country—as those living in ethnically heterogeneous areas make the rational decision to head for ‘home.’

May we all be proven wrong. May normalcy prevail, despite the abnormal situation we can no longer not call out. By this time next week, we shall know. For better or for worse.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes