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Many Kenyans have fled Nairobi and other cities for fear of being trapped in post-election violence, ahead of today’s polls. Over the last four days, bus terminals in Nairobi have been crowded with Kenyans of all ages, almost all of which are determined to leave the city to escape possible post-election violence.
Cross-country train tickets are simply sold out, leaving many at bus terminals to try their luck. The development is embarrassing to say the least, given that many foreigners have traveled to Kenya either as observers or journalists to monitor the elections.
The signal to such individuals, including myself, is that our democratic experiment as a continent, still has questions around it. The development in technology and other human endeavours over the last quarter of a century has been phenomenal. But attempts to choose leaders in Africa remain at a rudimentary stage; tinged with threats of violence, open hostilities and sometimes, actual violence.
These obviously contribute to the continent being relegated in major global discourses on human advancement. We have become the continent that the world seems to be giving up on, except when it gets to the size of our collective market. Even there, the Asians beat us to it.
So what is the African story? When is it going to turn positive? We can't choose our leaders without bloodshed? We can't manage our resources to our advantage? We can't lead our people out of poverty, squalor, disease, unemployment, illiteracy, and a thousand other social ills?
The exodus from capital cities in the run up to elections, is not unique to Kenya. In my own backyard - Ghana - many fled Accra and other cities as a precaution against possible violence. Interestingly, over the last quarter of 2017, many elections took place in Europe, notably Holland, France and U.K. But there were no such cases of people thinking violence would engulf their cities because a party was destined to win or lose.
In fact, when the U.K. suffered a number of terror attacks ahead of the last elections, the citizens did not cave in. Rather, they bonded through various social activities to show the terrorists that they (the citizens) were many and the terrorists, few.
Such must be our spirit. Why do we tumble in the face of adversity? Why must parents carry their children out of the city to give scaremongers value for their dirty antics? If the scaremongers succeed in driving out those they can, knowing where they tilt politically, can the outcome be considered to be fair?
But do you blame those fleeing Kenya's cities? Many of them I spoke to easily recalled the violence of 2007 and the skirmishes of 2013. They easily recalled those moments and shared terrible experiences. So, once bitten, twice shy.
Many of those I engaged were minors at the time of the last two elections but recall vividly how relatives, friends and foes fell, due to violence that erupted after each elections. Why must that be the case?
The opposition spent time last last Saturday at its final rally at Uhuru Park, recounting what they claimed was the government's rigging plan. James Orengo said they were willing to match the government's plan 'boot-for-boot'.
"They will announce and we will announce. At the Polling Station, they will add and we will add. At the Tallying Centres at the Constituency, we will want to see the forms filled at the Polling Stations," he declared to the ecstatic crowd at the rally.
The above followed a litany of accusations against the UhuRuto's Jubilee Alliance that has ruled the country since the 2013 elections. They claim the government sent a Gestapo to raid NASA's Tallying Center in The Westlands, taking computers, mobile phones and detaining some eight party officials. Police earlier disputed knowledge of the raid.
A Canadian and and an American were reportedly deported. Two unnamed Ghanaian officials were also prevented from disembarking at the Jomo Kenyatta Airport. All four were allegedly bundled into the next available flights to their home countries.
Power is everything in Africa and is exercised arbitrarily even under 'democracy'. Political leaders behave like the spoilt kids who own both the balls and the pitches and determine when the game starts and stops. They can end the game when the results are clearly not in their favour and care little about implications of such acts, often leading to loss of lives.
Many of those fleeing believe the polls may not be free and fair. They believe the attempts to manipulate is what will lead to bloodshed. But are these allegations founded on solid ground or they are the usual spoilt kids approach? Following the elections from afar until my arrival in Nairobi, I find that many of the allegations that have been tested in court have seen resolution.
Last week, Kenya's Chief Justice, David Maraga assured the country that Judges and Magistrates will work at nights and weekends to resolve all election disputes so why the scaremongering? He indicated that the attempts by both the ruling Jubilee Party and NASA to influence which judge or court sat on which case will not fly. He said the judiciary would play its impartial role.
It is obvious that Justice Maraga and his men are ready to put the state above parochial partisan interests and I doff my hat for them. Judges, wherever they are must guard jealously the ‘divine’ powers given to them by their states and not play to the gallery, for not much can be gained in doing that.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has given the world all the assurances of its impartiality. Parties have their agents at the Polling Stations and Tallying Centres. Security has been deployed to ensure peace. The three telecommunication companies -Safaricom. Airtel and Telkom Kenya have signed up to ensuring smooth transition of results.
The Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) is already being used to identify voters and will later transmit results to Tallying Centres. Though there have been reported hitches with the devices at some Polling Stations, the IEBC keeps updating the population on social media on efforts being made to address them.
Kenya must begin changing its story. It may not rid itself of tribal infiltration in its politics today, but it can allow the process that is ongoing to end in victory.
President Obama has challenged both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga of the need to keep the nation together, no matter the outcome of the polls.
A new story must begin, not just in Kenya but the entire continent. We chose our leaders before democracy without bloodshed, why do we lose sleep over a process that allows all to partake in the choice?
Kenya must win today. It must bond and not break.
I rest my case.
Source: Kobby Gomez-Mensah/Nairobi, Kenya