Fears of electoral violence in Kenya rose on Monday after colleagues of a senior Kenyan election official who was found dead said he had been tortured and murdered.
The body of Chris Msando, the head of information, communication and technology at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the main body overseeing the polls, was found on the outskirts of Nairobi on Saturday but news of his death was released 48 hours later.
The corpse of an unidentified woman was also found.
The apparent murders come nine days before voters in the east African state will choose a new president, as well as lawmakers and local representatives.
Msando, who had a key role developing a new electronic ballot and voter registration systems at the IEBC, had been tortured before he died, election officials said.
Local media reported Msando told police he had received death threats before going missing last week.
“There’s no doubt that he was tortured and murdered,” Wafula Chebukati, the chair of the IEBC, told reporters outside the city mortuary in Nairobi.
The 8 August poll, which pits the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, against veteran challenger Raila Odinga, 72, has turned out to be unexpectedly close.
Kenyatta, who leads the Jubilee Alliance, is seeking a second and final five-year term.
Both sides have accused the other of underhanded tactics in the run-up to the polls, with the president saying Odinga is trying to divide the nation and provoke violence, and the opposition leader claiming Kenyatta plans to rig the poll.
Kenyans pray during a rally in Nairobi calling for peace before the election.
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Kenyans pray during a rally in Nairobi calling for peace before the election. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters
Odinga says that fraud robbed him of victory in the last two elections. In 2013, electronic voting machines were hit by widespread malfunctions, but a court dismissed Odinga’s complaints.
In 2007, Odinga called for street protests after tallying was abruptly stopped and a winner announced. The political protests and ethnic violence killed more than 1,200 people and displaced more than half a million.
Msando had made frequent media appearances to reassure voters that new technology to be deployed in the coming election was reliable against fraud.
“The only issue is who killed him and why … I demand from the government that they provide security for all members of the IEBC for them to give Kenya free and fair elections,” said Chebukati.
Police were not available for comment.
Rashid Abdi, a regional analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that the killing of “someone who was involved in a critical component of the elections, the electronic infrastructure” would “definitely raise suspicions and undermine public confidence in the outcome” of the poll.
Human Rights Watch said Msando’s death should be urgently investigated.
Most analysts have said that the prospect of disorder on the scale of 2007 is remote, though some local clashes are to be expected during the campaign and after the results are declared.
The announcement of Msando’s death came days after an attacker killed a police officer outside the vice-president’s country home.
Kenya, east Africa’s largest economy, is experiencing drought, deep corruption, soaring inflation and high unemployment. There have been violent clashes between pastoralists and ranchers in the Laikipia region.
Early predictions were that Kenyatta would win easily, but more recent polls have indicated a tight race.
“It is not clear if the gap is actually narrowing, but … there is certainly a perception that the opposition has momentum,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at the University of Birmingham and an expert in African politics.
“They are hitting the government hard on corruption, rising inequality and rising cost of living. They have been connecting all three very well.”
Some analysts question the impact of economic factors, stressing that most Kenyans still vote along ethnic lines.