NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 26 – Sitting behind a long table at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), flanked by microphones, as he read out election results may probably be the enduring memory of this man.
Kenya was in the thick of the 2007 general election and politicians were pressing in on either side of Samuel Mutua Kivuitu – then chairman of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) – trading accusations of vote rigging.
It was the third such exercise that Kivuitu presided over having successfully steered the 2002 polls in which President Mwai Kibaki took over from retired President Daniel arap Moi after 24 years in office.
Three years later, he oversaw Kenya’s first ever constitution referendum in 2005 when the government-backed document was voted down.
“Kivuitu was a great man. I believe his demise is one of the biggest which will face Kenya. A lot of good things which happen to our people will not be remembered apart from the bad which will be remembered,” Willis Oloo, an engineer, laments.
Kivuitu passed away at the MP Shah hospital in Parklands on Monday night after a long drawn battle with cancer – Parklands being an area which Kivuitu served two terms as Member of Parliament in the late 60s and in the 80s.
“I’d like to urge the government to really do something about cancer,” Matthew Karinge, a 35-year-old businessman said on hearing of Kivuitu’s demise, “bearing in mind that for the last one year so many prominent people lost their lives through cancer.”
According to a United Nation’s report, over 1,000 people were killed in the violence that erupted following the contested 2007 election. As a result, a lot of hostility was directed at the ECK and Kivuitu as its chairman, something that was not lost on Kivuitu.
“Those who for their own reasons feel a lot of hatred for me, that is not good for a human being to feel hated especially when he feels he did nothing wrong,” Kivuitu said during a television interview in 2011.
When I meet Martin Ngase has a bag slung over his shoulder and a box by his feet all packed and ready; the carpenter is heading to Vihiga county where he is registered to vote in Monday’s poll.
“Yes, we had a dispute in 2007 but you cannot blame Samuel Kivuitu alone,” Ngase says, “He did his best. Let God rest his soul in peace.”
Kivuitu gave his last television interview exactly three weeks ago, a shadow of the man who sat behind that long desk at KICC managing to hold agitated politicians at bay even as he struggled with his health.
Again, even in the face of his own mortality, Kivuitu was desperate to see Kenya hold a successful election.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’d like to see our elections succeed. The success is not that of those who are running the elections or managing the elections. The success is for Kenya.”
Eric Mwenda, a 31-year-old security guard, says a peaceful election is the best legacy we can give to a man who spent the better part of his professional life in service to his nation.
“Let this election not be like the last election. You can imagine going to your homestead and finding five graves of people who were not sick. The people who made those people die are friends up to now eating on a round table.”
“Let Kenyans not accept for that to happen again. Let us vote peacefully, let us elect our leaders with wisdom and let the election be peaceful because even if we fight we are the losers.”