Exactly a week before Kenya goes to the polls to elect a new president, the official in charge of electronic voting was found dead on Monday after being missing for three days.
The body of Chris Msando, who was the head of information, communication and technology at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), was found in a bush by the side of a road on the outskirts of Nairobi.
The chairman of the Commission, Wafula Chebukati, alleged that Msando had been tortured and murdered, although a post mortem has yet to be carried out. “In our mind as a commission, the only issue is who killed him and why, and that is the question that must be answered,” he said, calling for all IEBC officials to be given immediate police protection in the run-up to the election. Chebukati is now being protected around-the-clock, local media report, with six more police officers assigned to protect him from Monday.
Tension is high in Kenya as the presidential election on 8 August is expected to be a close race between incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and long-time opponent Raila Odinga. Kenyatta, the son of independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, is seeking a second and final five-year term.
Mr Msando had only been on the job for two months, having taken over after his predecessor was suspended for refusing to cooperate with an audit firm which was cleaning the voters’ register.
Paradoxically Msando was scheduled on Monday to organise the public testing of the electronic voting system to reassure voters that there could be no vote rigging.
The Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System, which has been vaunted by the IEBC as key to eliminate vote rigging, will be used to identify voters and transmit results.
Msando’s death will do little to assuage growing concerns about the IEBC’s election preparedness and questions about its credibility.
Kenya is no stranger to political violence, particularly when elections are held. In 2007 more than 1,200 people died after veteran opposition leader Odinga called for street protests after losing the election to former President Mwai Kibaki.
Then in 2013, electronic voting machines suffered widespread malfunctions, and Odinga took his complaints to court, which dismissed them.
Odinga has alleged that fraud robbed him of victory in the last two elections.
The main opposition National Super Alliance, which Mr Odinga is representing, said the “heinous murder” was an attempt to “drive a dagger in the heart” of the upcoming election.
It said the killers wanted to send a “chilling message that they will stop at nothing to ensure the outcome they desire”.
Both sides have accused the other of underhanded tactics in the run-up to the polls, with the president saying Odinga is trying to divide the nation and provoke violence, and the opposition leader claiming Kenyatta plans to rig the poll.
Some fear there could be violent clashes between rival supporters after the election result is announced, with the losers refusing to accept defeat.