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VOA Journalists Discuss Disputed Kenya Election, at Washington Think Tank

(L to R): Mwamoyo Hamza, VOA Swahili service chief, Vincent Makori, managing editor of English TV to Africa, and former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, William Mark Bellamy, discuss recent Kenyan elections at CSIS, August 16, 2017.

Two Voice of America journalists said Wednesday the election they covered in Kenya in early August was a success. VOA Swahili service chief Mwamoyo Hamza and Vincent Makori, managing editor of English TV to Africa, spoke at a Washington D.C. think tank in a post-election discussion.

Makori, who reported from polling stations and covered the final days of the campaign, as well as the aftermath, said August 8th “was very well organized, (a) really nicely orchestrated and executed election day.” Results announced earlier in the week showed President Uhuru Kenyatta defeated challenger Raila Odinga by an unexpectedly large margin, 54.3 percent to 44.8 percent.

The discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) was broadcast nationally on C-Span TV and attended by several dozen Washington, D.C. Kenya watchers, ex-patriots and Kenya’s ambassador to the U.S.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Kenya William Mark Bellamy agreed that most international observers gave the election a “thumbs up.”

“I must confess that many of my predictions about this election did not come to pass. In many ways I am relieved they didn’t,” said Bellamy, now the senior advisor in the CSIS Africa Program. “It was easy to imagine scenarios whereby this election — acrimonious throughout and thought to be exceptionally close — would end in disorder and possibly widespread violence.”

In 2007, Kenya erupted in post-election violence that resulted in 1,000 deaths and 600,000 people being displaced. The aftermath of the 2013 election was largely peaceful.

The panel spoke eight days after the election and shortly after Odinga announced an opposition coalition would take its challenge of what he called “a stolen election” to Kenya’s Supreme Court.

At the CSIS forum, Kenyan Ambassador Robinson Njeru Githae defended his government’s conduct and its verification of the vote that gave the ruling Jubilee Party “absolute majorities” around the country and in Parliament.

“So, I think you need to see how you can reconcile that claim of ‘rigging’ (the election),” said Githae, addressing the VOA journalists.

Makori said VOA journalists did not “take sides” in the election dispute.

“None of us have seen any evidence – any of the evidence they have, in regards to rigging attempts or hacking of the system,” said Makori, answering the ambassador. He also pointed out the government has yet to publicize documents from each polling place designed to verify the results.

“The government was very sensitive about coverage,” said Mwamoyo Hamza, VOA Swahili Service chief, “especially protests.” He pointed out local media “was under heavy pressure” to act in a manner that could not be interpreted as inciting violence and so avoided coverage of demonstrations.

Days before the voting, the election official responsible for the electronic voting system was found dead, tortured and murdered. Hamza pointed out there has been little information from the government on the investigation.

“I do think that it, in some way, casts a shadow over this election,” said Bellamy who was ambassador to Kenya from 2003 to 2006.

VOA Swahili Reporter BMJ Muriithi also gave his impressions, speaking from the audience.

In addition to the national C-Span broadcast, the discussion attracted some news coverage, including an article in The Daily Nation, a newspaper in Kenya.