(Clarifies in March 6 story that manual transmission was not
intended to be sole means for tallying results)
* Vote count transmission system crippled
* Delays raising voter anxiety levels
By Richard Lough
NAIROBI, March 6 Kenya resorted to choppers to
fly officials carrying results from this week's presidential
poll to the capital, let down by new technology aimed at
avoiding the violent disputes that led to 1,200 deaths after the
vote five years ago.
The snail-paced release of results, after the electronic
system used to transmit numbers direct from polling stations to
a central tallying centre failed, has deepened voter anxiety and
may undermine prospects for such systems in other African votes.
Past elections in Kenya have been dogged by "ghost" voters,
stuffed ballot boxes and rigging at the final tally, all of
which have plagued polls across sub-Saharan Africa for decades,
as corrupt leaders turned a blind eye to popular will.
In Kenya's presidential vote in 2007, opponents cried foul
when now-outgoing President Mwai Kibaki won a second term,
plunging east Africa's biggest economy into weeks of mayhem.
This time, Kenya was determined to deliver a credible,
"I'm almost embarrassed that it did not work," Bitange
Ndemo, the information and communication ministry's top civil
servant, told Reuters.
Computer servers used by the election commission to handle
the incoming data were overwhelmed, Ndemo said.
Although Kenyans appreciated the honest intentions, the
delivery didn't live up to the promise.
On voting day, more than half of all the finger
print-reading voter identification machines had broken down in
polling stations across the country, forcing officials to revert
to a back-up paper register.
More critically, the electronic transmission system key to
the delivery of speedy results suffered crippling hitches,
leading to a results vacuum that has spawned the kind of
conspiracy theories the authorities were desperate to avoid.
It has also given a chance to rival candidates to sow doubt
about the integrity of the tally.
As provisional results limped in via the cell-phone based
transmission system, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries
Commission began releasing official results as returning
officers reached Nairobi from far-flung corners.
Safaricom, which provided network services, said
its systems worked but the problems arose with equipment that
was not its responsibility.
Manual transmission was not intended as the sole method for
tallying results, as it has now become, but the patience of
voters hungry for an outcome is wearing thin, and a seven-day
deadline for the results is starting to look uncomfortably
close. However, switching systems risks creating suspicion.
Kenyans want a single system they can follow and have
confidence in, one local commentator said in a TV discussion.
Africa has looked to cell phones and other technologies to
overcome shortcomings in infrastructure. Kenya itself has blazed
a trail in mobile phone banking, a technology that has caught
the eye from Asia to Latin America.
It is not the first sub-Saharan country to fall foul of such
Presidential elections in Ghana in 2012 were extended into a
second day of polling after voter registration machines being
used for the first time malfunctioned in more than 400 of the
26,000 polling stations.
"It was unfortunate. The machines broke down in many
instances, or voters had indistinct finger prints, or the
machines got greasy," Mark Stevens, head of the democracy
section at the Commonwealth Secretariat, told Reuters in
"And they had a very clear edict. No verification by
machine, no vote."
Three months on, though, voters in the West African country
broadly stand by technology's role in building Africa's
democratic credentials, though they also want the back-up of
paper, pen and identity cards.
"I would not say we should abandon the use of the
technology, because it enhances our trust in the system," said
James Klobodzi, a 28-year-old taxi driver in Accra, Ghana's
capital. "All I am saying is that it should not be the key
In Kenya the jury is still out.
As the delays in releasing results grow, so too do the
complaints about flaws in the process, whipping up fears
politicians may reject the final outcome and their supporters
turn to the street. For now, Kenyans still seem to trust the
reformed election commission.
"They have started from scratch, and it needs improvements.
But I think it's the future," said Krzysztof Lisek, head of a
European Parliament delegation visiting Kenya.
(Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri and Yara Bayoumy in
Nairobi, Kwasi Kpodo in Accra; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing
by Edmund Blair and Will Waterman)