WORLD

Top Kenya election official 'tortured and murdered'

TOP KENYA ELECTION OFFICIAL TORTURED AND MURDERED

An official charged with overseeing Kenya's electronic voting system was found dead just over a week before the country goes to the polls, the commission's chairman said Monday.

The body of Chris Msando, a top information technology manager at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), has been identified at the city morgue, according to IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati.

"There was no doubt he was tortured and murdered. The only question in our mind is who (killed him) and why he was killed a few days to elections," Chebukati told reporters.

Msando was in charge of a system of electronic voter identification and vote counting seen as crucial to avoid rigging, and was the second in command in the commission's IT department.

All eyes are on this electronic system ahead of August 8 polls after its crash in 2013 led the opposition to accuse the election commission of rigging the election.

A source close to the IEBC told AFP that Msando had helped seal loopholes that could be used to manipulate vote tallies.

Msando's death should be "urgently" investigated, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"Msando's killing comes as the electoral management body was due to audit its systems, a week away from the election day," said Africa researcher Otsieno Namwaya.

Chebukati announced the cancellation of that audit after Msando's killing.

Msando was declared missing over the weekend.

In an earlier statement, Chebukati said Msando was last seen Friday night and sent a text message to a colleague early Saturday morning suggesting "that he was conscious and fully aware of his itinerary for that day".

A mortuary employee said Msando's body was brought in by police on Saturday alongside that of a woman. Both were naked and appeared to have been tortured before their bodies were dumped in a forest in Kiambu outside Nairobi.

It was unclear why it took 48 hours for the body to be identified.

Msando acted as the head of the IEBC's IT department in May after its director was suspended for 30 days for failing to comply with government auditors.

He had recently appeared on television, explaining the voting system and assuring viewers that the polls would be successful.

- 'HEINOUS MURDER' -
Tensions have risen in Kenya ahead of the presidential election, which has been a bad-tempered and tight race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and longtime opposition leader Raila Odinga.

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.

Odinga's opposition alliance NASA condemned the "heinous murder" of Msando, saying in a statement they were "gravely concerned" about its implications.

"That no effort was made to camouflage this killing as an accident shows the determination of the killers to send a chilling message that they will stop at nothing to ensure the outcome they desire," read the statement.

While 2013 polls were largely peaceful, Kenya remains traumatised by a disputed 2007 election, which Odinga claimed was rigged.

Two months of ethnic clashes and a crackdown on protests left 1,100 dead in east Africa's richest economy, which had been seen as a bastion of stability in the region.

Msando's death follows a mysterious attack at the home of deputy president William Ruto on Saturday in Eldoret northwest of Nairobi.

Police say a lone assailant killed one police officer, wounded another, then held off security forces for nearly 24 hours before being killed.

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