The UK-based international development agency Christian Aid has voiced disappointment in the conduct of Kenya’s electoral commission following President Mwai Kibaki's disputed election victory - and has called for restraint.
The agency, which has worked in Kenya since 1963, believes that once alleged voting irregularities became apparent, Kenya’s electoral commission should have postponed announcing the election results until the allegations had been investigated.
It is now urging both the Kenyan government and opposition supporters to exercise restraint following reports of the deaths of scores of people in widespread rioting after the poll results became known.
Police in one town were said to have fired indiscriminately into crowds of fleeing demonstrators. Dereje Alemayehu, Christian Aid’s country manager, heard at first hand the extent of some of the violence from a security guard at the organisation’s Nairobi office.
"He was in tears and I asked him what happened," says Alemayehu. "He replied: 'In Kibera where I live, more than 40 people have been killed. In Kisumu, my home town, more than 50 people have been killed, and there is no end in sight. Surely, this is not an appropriate way of defending democracy!'"
The electoral commission said on Sunday 31 January 2007 that President Kibaki secured 46.7% of the vote versus 44.3% for Raila Odinga, the country’s main opposition leader who had led in most opinion polls and early vote tallies.
Chief European Union election observer, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, reported that EU monitors were barred from counting centres in Kibaki's home region. There were also anomalies between local reports of the numbers of votes cast, and the figures then reported nationally.
"I myself have seen forms which have been changed and no one could tell me who had done the changes," said Lambsdorff.
Sam Kivuitu, chairman of the electoral commission, has said that it is the job of the courts, not his organisation, to deal with accusations of electoral irregularities.
But Alemayehu says: "The behaviour of the electoral commission has been deeply unfortunate. It should have been guided by the principle that the credibility of a process is vital if the result is to be accepted, particularly where polarisation along ethnic lines prevails."
He continues: "Above all, it should have taken into consideration that in a fragile and nascent democracy, ensuring national cohesion in the long term is crucially important."
"It should have delayed announcing the results until the procedural issues had been investigated and resolved in a transparent manner," he adds.
Alemayehu believes that what has happened will erode the confidence of people in the democratic process, and their faith in public institutions.
"I fear that the country may have been thrown back in terms of the democratic political processes Kenyans believed were strongly established five years ago, when one party dictatorship was defeated after 40 years by popular vote," he says.
"We hope calm and restraint will prevail while a solution is sought in which there are no winners and losers. The fact has to be acknowledged that even in results that have been given, the difference between the 'loser' and the 'winner' is merely about 300 thousand in a country of 30 million.
"It would be fatal to consider the results given as binding for the next five years. There has to be a compromise which ensures national cohesion and healing, and avoids civil strife."
Christian Aid supports a number of partner organisations working for accountable governance, economic justice, secure livelihoods and combating HIV and AIDS. It is monitoring closely what at present is a fast moving situation.