A month and a day after Kenyan voters thanked Yale student election monitors for their surveillance of that country’s presidential election, the students presented their findings on the fairness of a contest that has sparked widespread violence.
On Monday, more than 40 members of the Yale community gathered in Luce Hall to hear the nine student monitors discuss their experiences observing Kenya’s voting procedures on December’s Election Day. While the event is only the first of several they will organize regarding Kenya in the coming months, leaders said they were glad to have a chance to begin spreading awareness within the Yale community.
Early last week, the group released its Observation Report, which compiled comments for each polling center the group visited as well as a list of formal recommendations that it provided to the Kenyan government. The report has been sent to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, which will factor it into its own final report.
Since the disputed election, more than 300,000 Kenyans have fled their homes, and over 700 have been killed as a result of ethnic violence, according to the New York Times.
During the presentation, each group member assessed topics ranging from the trip’s planning to the practice of election monitoring itself. Students also spoke of the kilometer-long voting lines and the “minor inefficiencies and questionable procedures” outlined in their report.
“[Opposition candidate Raila] Odinga was getting his supporters ready for election fraud to happen,” trip co-leader Aniket Shah ’09 said Monday night. “It was … shocking to see in the last few days of the campaign how central that was to the theme.”
While students agreed that it would have been difficult to foresee the violence that erupted later, they said the importance of and division over the election created a situation ripe for conflict.
The students said the violence they currently see displayed across televisions and newspapers is incongruent with the attitudes they observed on election day.
“People were not in the mood to fight. We just wanted to vote,” Frank Mokaya ’09, a trip member and Kenyan national, said.
While Kenya’s rapid change in atmosphere makes the violence all the more tragic, students found it difficult to think about the conflict because of the need to remain neutral, trip member Ben Shaffer ’09 said.
Mokaya, who remained in Kenya for two weeks after the election, said the current violence broadcast on American television does not do justice to the Kenyan people because the media give Americans a limited view of a complex situation. Still, when asked how to describe the violence, Mokaya chose four words: brutal, terrible, inconsiderate and appalling.
Trip co-leader Eliot Pence GRD ’08 said he welcomed the trip as an opportunity to share ideas and opinions with undergraduates, whose principal in
teraction with graduate students occurs only in discussion sections.
In response to a question about whether they thought the monitoring was effective in protecting Kenya’s fledgling democracy, several students responded by saying they were confident that election monitors were important in providing objective observations to Kenyans.
Calestous Juma — an expert on Africa, international trade and environmental policy and a visiting fellow at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies who attended the event — said the legitimacy of the victory, Mwai Kibaki, would have been much greater if the election observers had given him their approval.
Group leaders said they saw yesterday’s event as the beginning of a campus-wide response to the violence in Kenya, on which they will work with the Yale International Relations Association and possibly other related organizations.
“This will be a great way to kick-start all of our initiatives,” trip co-leader Shazan Jiwa ’09 said.
In mid-February, Yale and the group will welcome a member of the Kenyan Parliament to New Haven.