Use of technology returns to haunt 2017 elections


An IEBC official holds a KIEMS gadget during tallying in Nyeri on August 9, 2017. Photo | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

The use of technology in Kenya’s General Election has once again threatened to throw the polls into disrepute after opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed that the election agency’s computer system was hacked to give incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta a strong lead.

Just like in the 2013 polls, hackers gained entry into the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission database and manipulated the results, Mr Odinga said, terming the exercise a ‘‘fraud.’’

The allegations of poll hacking, which IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati promised to investigate, shift focus to the three technology giants namely IBM, Oracle and Dell that were hired to ensure foolproof security of election data.

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French firm Morpho, which supplied 15,000 biometric voter registration kits for the 2013 polls, was single-sourced to supply 48,000 tablets dubbed Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIMS) at a cost of Sh3 billion.

The gadgets incorporate voter listing, electronic voter identification, and electronic transmission of results. Digital meddling in Kenya’s polls — akin to alleged Russia’s hacking of US polls — also raises queries on IEBC’s continued splurging of billions of taxpayer cash on technology meant to cure ills such as ‘‘dead’’ voters casting votes, stuffing of ballot boxes, and rigging.

“At about 12.37 p.m on August 8, 2017, hackers gained entry into our election database through the identity of Chris Msando, who was executed barely a week ago, into the account of Mr Chebukati,” Mr Odinga said.

“They gained full entry into the IEBC systems, acquired powers to write their will and dwarf the peoples’ voice.

‘‘They created errors into the IEBC core server that allowed them to turn a democratic process into a function of a formula,” he said.

Mr Msando, who was acting director for ICT at IEBC, was found dead on July 31 after he went missing for three days. Police are yet to unravel his murder.

Kenya went on the brink of the precipice in 2013 when only half or 17,000 of the 33,000 polling stations managed to transmit results digitally before the system was hacked and overwhelmed by some technical hitches — forcing the IEBC to revert to manual tallying of results.

IEBC later admitted that there was a suspicious algorithm in its servers, which multiplied the number of spoilt votes by a factor of eight — similar to the number of presidential candidates in the 2013 race.

Observers weigh in

Civil society and observer groups watching the Kenyan polls yesterday weighed in on the election hacking claims by Mr Odinga.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development election observer mission said in a preliminary report that the Kenyan polls were credible, adding that there was need to investigate the hacking allegations.

“The hacking issue is very disturbing. As observers, we are not in an area to detect such. We’re concerned,” said Tewolde Gebremeskel, Igad’s director of peace and security, who headed an 18-member team to Nairobi.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission said it had discovered massive and systemic discrepancies between provisional results announced by IEBC and paper forms signed by party agents in five random cases in Kisumu, Kericho, Nandi, and Nairobi.

For example, at Kipchebor polling station in Kericho County, the actual signed forms dubbed 34A show Mr Kenyatta received 284 votes against Mr Odinga’s 169 votes, yet IEBC’s results portal gives the incumbent 288 and his opponent 164, “suggesting four votes were subtracted from Odinga and added to Kenyatta.”

The rights body said: “We therefore call upon the IEBC to restrain from making an illegal declaration of outcomes before all forms 34A are available and tallies from the constituency tallying centres are all in.”

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki, head of the African Union election observers’ team, will today present a maiden report on the polls.

John Kerry, former US secretary of State and head of the Carter Centre mission; as well as European Union chief observer Marietje Schaake are also expected to present their findings on the polls.