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Kenya's election watch and wait ... but don't say worry

A deputy presiding officer takes a much-needed break March 4, 2013 after election polls closed in Kibera, Kenya's largest slum. MICHELLE SHEPHARD / TORONTO STAR


Matatus, the overcrowded minibuses that normally clog Nairobi's streets, are parked along the side of the roads. Drivers who venture out in their own cars are giddy with the freedom of actually driving, rather than sitting stuck in the capital's ubiquitous traffic. Schools are closed. The few grocery stores that are open are low on stock.

Along Ngong Road that leads out of the city, car lots remain empty. Owners removed the pricey Land Rovers the weekend before Monday's election, just in case looters rampaged again as they did five years ago in disatrous post-election violence that killed more than 1,200.

This is the unusual calm here in the capital as Kenyans wait for results of the crucial presidential election and the world waits to see what happens once a decision is announced. But don't wonder if it's the "calm before the storm" because stories hyping the threat (or clichés for that matter) are really getting on people's nerves. 

Monday was a remarkable exercise in patience. It is difficult to imagine many other countries where voters would wait in single-file lines for as long as 12 hours, wordlessly enduring the sweltering heat, to cast their ballots. It is estimated that turnout was at least 70% of the country's more than 14 million registered voters.

But if Monday was about patience, and Tuesday, a day of recovery and reflection, then Wednesday represented frustration, if only because people are eager to get on with life and back to business. 

The delay is largely because the electronic system used to count the votes broke down Tuesday. That means returning officers now have to physically deliver paper copies here to Nairobi. It's a big country, and many polling stations are very remote.

By midday Wednesday, only 53 of the 290 constituencies had arrived.

Time fuels suspicion, which officials are going to great lengths to dispute, as it was cries of corruption and a rigged vote five years ago that sparked the violence.

 Under the new constitution Kenya passed in 2010, electoral officials have seven days to tally the results. There is hope it will not take that long.


Michelle Shephard is the Toronto Star's National Security correspondent and author of "Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Grey Zone." She is a three-time recepient of Canada's National Newspaper Award. Follow her on Twitter @shephardm


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