“We should be preparing tomorrow’s presidential election, but no one is here,” said the frustrated polling officer as he made a series of phone calls trying to persuade other officials to attend a pre-election meeting at Lions High School, the constituency tally centre.
Of the roughly 400 officers due to attend, only five turned up.
The reason for the no-show is the decision by opposition leader Raila Odinga to boycott Thursday’s presidential re-run — a ballot called after the Supreme Court overturned the results of an August poll in which President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected.
Odinga, who has lost three previous presidential elections, says that without reform, Kenya’s IEBC election board cannot hold a free and fair poll.
And here in Kisumu, an Odinga’s stronghold, his supporters intend to follow the boycott to a tee.
In recent weeks, people with knives and clubs have disrupted at least two election training sessions, assaulting the participants, while street demonstrations have devolved into sometimes deadly clashes with police.
“I fear for my life, yes. I don’t know if I will come to the polling station tomorrow,” one of the absentee officials told AFP by phone, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Lions High School should be buzzing with activity, but the only sign an election is imminent are the piles of ballot papers due to be sent out to polling stations ahead of the vote.
“The remaining electoral materials are in a warehouse a few kilometres (a couple of miles) from here, but I have not been able to find anyone to carry them. No one wants to be associated with the IEBC,” admitted Ngutai, who said that by now, all the electoral materials should already be in the polling stations.
“But here we are,” he said, surveying a largely empty room.
– ‘Election? What election?’ –
In contrast to the forlorn scene at Lions, the slum of Kondele was buzzing. Around a thousand Odinga supporters had gathered, burning tyres, throwing up barricades and arming themselves with stones ahead of a march on the city’s IEBC headquarters.
“An election? What election?” asked Cliff Asweto, a 39-year-old vegetable seller who abandoned his stall to join the protest in defiance of a government ban.
“There may be an election elsewhere in the country, but not here,” he said.
At least 40 people have been killed since the August 8 poll, almost all of them by police in opposition strongholds, according to human rights organisations.
As the procession approached the city centre, a confrontation with police seemed inevitable, but it did not discourage the protesters.
“We will block the election tomorrow, we will block polling stations if IEBC tries to open them, even if we have to face the police to do that,” one demonstrator called John Atuoto.
But the protesters’ threats may be unnecessary. In the downtown park which should host Kisumu’s largest polling station there was nothing going on, no preparations, no officials, nothing.
“A polling station here? I don’t think it will happen by tomorrow,” said Rose, 55, who was sitting on a bench in the park.
More ominous though was the view of Jacob Akach, a middle-aged tribal elder.
“Here, the election will not take place,” he said.
“Otherwise, if it does take place, it will be under a lot of security. People will die. I am very honest with you. People will die.”