As the voting day approached, rallies got quite emotional and Kenyans were as usual, in a jovial mood. The main question that hung around their heads was what the outcome of the referendum would bring. A day before voting started; most people had rushed to the supermarkets and started buying stuff in an effort to pack them in the house in case of anything. Supermarket shelves were empty of gas, dairy and bakery products from as early as 8.00pm. Most slept with one major question above their heads; will tomorrow prove to be like 31st December 2007?
The morning of August 4th would see a lot of people ready to go and cast their ballots for/or against the draft constitution. The queues had started forming quite early and everyone was in high spirits. It was high time that we would finally know the fate of the country. On social media, Kenyans were upbeat especially on Twitter where the #KenyansOnTwitter were using the hash tag #KenyaDecides to explain to the rest of the world how they would be voting. Media stations were on high alert with each one of them trying to outdo the other in giving the live updates.
Then the situation started coming through in nits full picture with reports that voting was going on well. Pictures and live video feeds helped to put everything into perspective as each and every person rushed to vote. The best part of it was people showing their pinkies which had been shaded purple or the peace sign after the ink had been applied between fingers. Everyone was ecstatic that they had voted and those who did early were encouraging others to go out there and vote. In Kisumu, reports say that residents were woken up at about 4 o’clock in the morning by youth blowing whistles and vuvuzelas asking them to go and vote. Polling stations had long queues but it all depended on the surname that was used and in the region that you were in. The first voter cast their ballot at minutes past 6 before they celebrated that they were part of making history.
Streets in Nairobi’s CBD were mostly empty apart from the voters whose polling stations were there and the local media whose offices were located in the same area. No results would be relayed until the end of the day so there was some bit of tension. Voting would continue until 5 o’clock in the evening and the first batch of results would be ready by 6 0’clock the same evening.
A defining moment of this election was that prisoners would also have the chance to express their wish through the poll a right they had been denied before. This came about after a case filed in the High Court of Kenya asking that prisoners also be allowed to vote. It was quite controversial since the voter registration had already been closed when the judge passed the ruling. Calm was evident in the prisons although a minor number of prisoners voted the key reason being that the time period between the voting and the registration meant that some of the prisoners had been long since released.
There were reports that some ballot boxes had errors in that they lacked one choice on them or that the colour that was used was not what they had expected. Names missing from the voting registers was also another big issue and several polling stations experienced this. One of the returning officers in a certain polling station located to the arid north of Nairobi had died after a long illness and the electoral body chairman took his time to explain this to the country via a live briefing. A boat, while ferrying ballot papers, had also capsized in one of Kenya’s major river. No casualties were reported at all and more ballot papers were airlifted to the area by a chopper.
When the results started trickling in, it was out rightly clear that the YES team would clear this thing. The ratio of YES to NO votes was in the range of 2:1. It was a race for votes and this was the final stretch. There was no change at all in the voting distribution all through the night and even the following day when the YES camp lead by the Higher Education minister threw in the towel even before the end of the tallying. The tallying this time round was made electronically with updates coming in after every one hour from the National Tallying centre. At one point even the database could not hold up to the trickling in of the results and they had to somehow take a break from all the tallying. The results were finally announced on Friday with the YES team winning by about 67 percent of the total votes cast. The main thing about all of the process was that the electoral body chairperson was what would qualify to be called a youth and he had shown what can be done when the youth are given a chance to prove themselves.
In spite of this, the voter turnout was a bit low compared to the total registered voters with only 9million voters turning up instead of the more than 12.5 million people who were expected. And considering that Kenya has a population of about 40 million people, it is indeed a quite low figure. Riding on the fact that Kenya serves as the bureau headquarters for some major international media networks, serving the East and central Africa region, it was not a surprise to find out that international media would be covering the election. They had pitched camp in various Kenyan towns while booking themselves into nice hotels and ensuring that they had a vantage point. They wanted drama which Kenya showed that it was beyond all that and never provided them with anything at all. How could a country that was in the spotlight after the 2007 elections fail to have any drama at all? How are we going to explain to management that we have been unable to bring another fail story from an African democracy? Did we really get duped by having come out into Africa only to cover an event that was not about happen? Those are some of the questions that they might have asked themselves seeing that they could only say that democracy had come of age in Kenya after the peaceful voting experience. One of the international media houses was also quoted as saying that this was Kenya’s first peaceful voting experience. A minor disappointment and now we can only wait for the implementation of the new set of laws.