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When ‘madimoni’ stopped poll tallies and strategic silences on media repression

You probably missed the juicy details buried deep inside a Star story on September 29. Lion Place let the cat out of the bag. But few Kenyans noticed it, or a mighty debate would have erupted on the true state of the country’s famously “robust and independent” media.

Kenyans – and the watching world – were left stunned after mainstream media suddenly stopped tallying the presidential election results on the second day following the peaceful poll on August 9.

“Uproar as Kenyan media stops tallying presidential votes,” screamed a Capital FM headline on August 13.

“Kenya on edge as media’s election tally suddenly stops,” said the New York Times.

“With 90 per cent of the votes tallied, the two main contenders, William Ruto and Raila Odinga, were only a few thousand votes apart. Each had about 49 per cent of the vote,” NYT reporters Declan Walsh and Abdi Latif Dahir recounted.

“Then the tallies ground to a halt. Suddenly, millions of Kenyans, who had been glued to their televisions, radios and phones since Tuesday’s vote, were in the dark about the latest results of a neck-and-neck presidential race that has gripped the country, and is being scrutinized far beyond.”

By posting the election results on an open portal, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for the first time allowed anyone to do their own math. The media had specifically asked for such access to poll data. A Nation news report described the IEBC decision as “unprecedented”.

“Only the electoral commission is authorised to declare a winner, but the tallies done by media were seen as a bulwark against the kind of rigging allegations that have previously sparked violence,” Reuters reported.

So, why did the media suddenly stop their independent tallies?

The Nation Media Group said they suspended their live count to reorganise resources. “The Nation Media Group continues to tally and publish elections results. However, updating of results slowed down due to a reorganisation of resources to tally forms 34B released since on Friday,” their statement said.

But NMG and Citizen TV also told Reuters their staff were tired and needed a rest. “Now we have about a third of people working that we started with and we intend to pick up pace in the next few hours when the rest of the team come back,” said Linus Kaikai, director of strategy at Citizen.

Kimathi Street boss Stephen Gitagama told Reuters his people were exhausted, and that the election was IEBC’s job after all. “IEBC bears the responsibility of providing the results, not the media,” he said.

Everyone forgot about this small matter and moved on, apparently.

Over a month after the election, and with the petition against Ruto’s win unanimously dismissed at the Supreme Court on September 5, paving the way for his swearing in on September 13, the scribes up on Waiyaki Way where the Nairobi Expressway starts – or ends, depending on your destination – decided it was time to pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

“Only Radio Africa Group correctly predicted election results”, said the headline in The Star newspaper and online. The story “By Star Reporter” said RAG’s final opinion poll released a week to the election gave Ruto 50.4 per cent of the vote compared to 49.0 per cent for Raila.

“This was remarkably close to the actual results announced by the IEBC where Ruto got 50.5 per cent of the total vote and Raila 48.8 per cent,” the paper said.

And then the bombshell: “Further drama occurred after the elections as media houses were told to stop tallying the results live on air. The tallies, based on Form 34As and Form 34Bs posted on the IEBC portal, showed a very close race with the lead shifting between Ruto and Raila.”

Billion-dollar question: Who exactly ordered media houses to stop tallying, and why? Did anyone hear the media complain of interference and repression? Lion Place did not name names.

Strategic silence is a weapon. Often, the bigger point is in what is NOT said than in what is stated. “Smart people read The Star”, so Lion Place it seems expected you to read between the lines. Ujijazie.

“Reportedly on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 10, government officials called Citizen TV, owned by SK Macharia, NTV and KTN and asked them to stop announcing publicly their vote allies.”

Who? Why? Strategic silence.

“The Kenyan media then went silent on the vote count although the BBC and Reuters subsequently reported that Ruto had a small lead of votes counted by IEBC.”

It is now more than one month, and no one has openly disputed this story. Jijazie.

See you next week!

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