Election fraud whistle blower on the run
Published on March 23, 2008, 12:00 am
By Josh Maiyo
A team has been sworn-in to look at how the Electoral Commission of Kenya handled the General Election last year.
As the team gets down to business, one man remains on the run for having blown the whistle on breach of rules during the tallying of presidential results.
|Mr Kipkemoi arap Kirui became a marked man immediately he addressed a press conference.|
On December 27, last year, shortly before the presidential poll results were announced, one man —whose actions could either be described as courageous or sheer foolishness — came out in the full glare of local and international media. He confessed anomalies were taking place at ECK offices at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Nairobi.
But immediately he addressed a press conference, Mr Kipkemoi arap Kirui became a marked man. Tension was high, nobody trusted the other and as fast as he came into the limelight, he disappeared.
What followed after were events akin to a James Bond movie.
In his address to the world, Kirui said: “I am speaking to the people of Kenya. My conscience would not allow me to see what I have seen and not speak about it. ECK is responsible for this mess. They (results) are altered here, not in the field. Form 16A is sufficient.”
Kirui had been mandated with tallying the results on Form 16A brought by returning officers while the Information Technology section would key-in changes for confirmation and signing by tallying officers.
“I did it for the first time but could not proceed to the second constituency because of shameless, blatant, open alteration of documents presented by the returning officers. My conscience would not allow me to sit and keep quiet,” Kirui explained.
He added: “I have gone public because it is important to do so. . .for heaven’s sake let us have a fair tallying process.”
Kirui says of his action then: “It mattered to me that my coming out would make a difference and I am convinced that it did. When I went to KICC to address the press, the situation was already tense; the paramilitary police had surrounded the place. I was sure a bullet would go through my head any time.”
Kirui then believed his intervention would save the situation. He thought the ECK Chairman, Mr Samuel Kivuitu, would nullify the elections and order a recount.
“I was convinced some action would be taken but little did I know that President Mwai Kibaki was preparing to be sworn in at the same time,” he recalls.
As a tallying supervisor, Kirui was responsible for the vote tallying process for one of 10 regions comprising 21 constituencies. This involved supervising junior staff who were meant to be in direct contact with returning officers at the constituency level, to receive and tally poll results by phone, verify them via faxed copies of original documents and finally confirm them by receiving the actual physical copies of original documents (Form 16A) countersigned by presiding officers and polling agents at the polling stations before the results could be announced by the commission chairman.
What transpired, however, was total confusion – a breach of the laid down procedures. Kirui says there was complete disregard for verification and proper and accurate documentation of the results. There was deliberate manipulation of the entire process, says Kirui.
He says none of the tallying and data entry officials recruited by the Electoral Commission of Kenya received adequate training on how to handle the exercise.
He argues the recruitment exercise continued to the very last minute. People were literally being recruited from the streets.
“They had school leavers from the streets joining the ECK tallying teams. I thought it was questionable, not because they didn’t know what to do but because they came very late, totally untrained and unprepared. We were then, as team leaders, asked to train people yet we didn’t receive any training ourselves.”
Kirui feels that the Independent Review Committee into the conduct of the elections should focus on structural weaknesses in the ECK that led to such a high level of incompetence.
“The level of incompetence could be seen right from the junior officers picked from the streets and put to do the job right away —seeing the forms and documents for the first time, without any training — to the highest officials and supervisors who seemed not to understand their roles and duties,” he explains.
He says: “The lack of organisation and lack of training was not just a failure to plan; it was a deliberate move to create chaos and confusion to manipulate the process easily.”
It was these glaring systemic weaknesses that allowed deliberate manipulation of the tallying process, he says.
Despite the real fear that it could well cost him his life, he felt that it was important to tell Kenyans what was going on in the tallying hall shortly before the presidential results were announced.
“I went public because of what I saw in Rwanda: The consequence of denying and robbing the people of their basic democratic rights, against a situation where you have skeletons of more than 250,000 people buried in one grave,” he says.
He recalls his trip to Rwanda: “At some stage, I saw the skeleton of a baby, almost 40 centimetres, with diapers still on and the skull had a big hole in it…you ask yourself how and why that level of animal behaviour could happen?”
He adds: “I saw our country sliding down that road and I knew I had to do something to prevent that slide, the certain and horrifying prospect of the consequence of a presidency being snatched from a winner. I could see that the country was already in a tense trance. I thought we were getting drunk, and I could see a slaughter and serious massacres 40 or so hours later. It could have been worse.”
But with this, he put his life on the line. With help from friends, Kirui managed to get out of the country. He had been warned, he says, by friends in the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) that there were people looking for him and that his life was in danger.
Fled the country
Kirui’s contacts in the police and NSIS had warned him that certain sections of the police were hunting him down and that his best hope was to leave the country.
With that information, he sought help from all possible sources considered friendly. He even talked to a few embassies and high commissions within Nairobi.
Some diplomats suggested that he leaves through Sudan, but the national airspace was under tight surveillance then and small aircrafts from every single airstrip in the country were grounded.
The only option was to leave by road. Uganda was at the time suspected to be supporting President Kibaki. That left Tanzania as the least risky of the available options.
How he was going to leave remained a big question.
Two days after his press appearance, Kirui called this writer in the dead of the night. The writer could tell he was clearly shaken and scared. He said he needed help to leave the country. He asked for any contacts with any foreign embassy that might be willing to help.
I made some phone calls and put him in touch with an embassy official I knew, and so began his extraordinary flight through Tanzania to Europe.
It was not easy leaving Nairobi. His two daughters aged 10 and 12 were upcountry, visiting his parents. His wife could not immediately leave with him as she had to fetch the girls from the village.
He was worried about leaving them behind, but knew he would be no use to them at home in death. He was comforted by the assurance that they would join him soon. According to him, many friends in the civil society and more than one foreign mission came to his rescue.
First, he took refuge in different ambassadorial residences. He was then taken to record a statement and swear an affidavit before a commissioner of oaths before eventually planning an escape route.
What followed was a harrowing 18-hour drive from Nairobi under the cover of darkness and disguise, through the Namanga border via Arusha to Dar es Salaam.
A week after he went underground, he was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Well wishers in Kenya immediately organised an air ticket for him and after being holed up in an embassy in Dar es Salaam, he was driven straight to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere International Airport where he took his overnight flight to safety.
Currently in his country of refuge, Kirui is now a student of human rights.