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These text messages could be the difference between war and peace in Kenya

Kenyans turned out in record numbers this week to vote for their fourth president. Voting was a largely peaceful affair, despite people lining up in the blazing heat for up to nine hours to cast their votes. Security was ratcheted up, with the government deploying nearly 100,000 police officers at polling stations and armed paramilitaries to certain locations.

With nearly 14.4 million of 44 million Kenyans registered to vote, turnout was estimated to be at over 70%. Along with a host of civic education messages, nonprofit Sisi Ni Amani sent out SMSes across the country over the last two days, to encourage peace and calm, and thank people for their patience. Here are some of them:

Monday, March 4

Onlookers view the body of a suspected member of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) who was shot dead by police after he hacked to death a police officer with a machete, according to police. Multiple attacks against security forces in Kenya on Monday killed at least 12 people as Kenyans waited in long lines to cast ballots.Onlookers view the body of a suspected member of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) who was shot dead by police after he hacked to death a police officer with a machete, according to police. Multiple attacks against security forces in Kenya on Monday killed at least 12 people as Kenyans waited in long lines to cast ballots.
Onlookers view the body of a suspected member of the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), shot dead by police after he fatally hacked a police officer with a machete, according to authorities. Multiple attacks against security forces in Kenya on Monday left at least a dozen people dead, but most polling sites reported being peaceful. AP Photo

9:57 a.m.: The following message was sent in Mombasa, in the wake of reports that people had been warned against voting after clashes between the separatist organization Mombasa Republican Council (MRA), and the police:

Let us not be left behind. Let us take pride in our right to vote and to vote peacefully. Peace is you and me.

10:18 a.m.: Rowdy youth overpowered police at a polling station in Dandora Phase 4, one of the informal settlements in Nairobi. They blocked others from voting and the situation was tense. The message we sent:

When we maintain peace, we will have joy & be happy to spend time with friends & family but violence spoils all these good things. Tudumishe amani Phase 4.

People wait in line at a polling station in the Mathare slum of Nairobi.
People wait in line at a polling station in the Mathare slum of Nairobi. AP Photo/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin

12:01 p.m.: In nearby Mathare, the biometric voter machines, which rely on fingerprints and facial features for identification, failed at one of the polling stations,. Further chaos ensued after people with certain surnames found themselves being re-routed. There was also frustration as voters became impatient with long lines. We sent the following message:

We the people of Mathare, we stand together proud of maintaining peace and patience as we participate in this historic election. Tuendelee kudumisha amani Mathare!

1:35 p.m.: As the day progressed, the government’s National Steering Committee on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management asked us to intensify messaging on the coast to help calm tensions. Our message:

We the people of Mombasa, let us ensure the future development of Mombasa by continuing to maintain peace so we can go on with our daily lives. Tudumishe Amani.

6:34 p.m.: In an area of Narok, there was some tension when people arrived at polling stations to vote after the 5 p.m. cutoff. They refused to leave when asked to by officials, and instead began grouping in the polling station and making threats.

Thank you Ololulunga for voting peacefully. Those who arrived at polls after the 5pm IEBC closing time, we urge you to return home & wait for results peacefully.

An official at the polling station put an ink mark on a Masai finger after he cased his vote.
An official at the polling station puts an ink mark on a Masai finger after he cast his vote. AP Photo/Sayyid Azim

7:12 p.m.: The final message for the night was sent to acknowledge the peaceful voting process, and to thank Kenyans for patiently standing in line for hours in order to cast their votes.

Thank you for voting peacefully and respecting the voting process. Let us be proud of the peace we shall keep for Kenya!

Some polling stations remained open late, through to the early hours, as lines of voters waited patiently for their turn at the ballot. Counting began as soon as stations closed, and results trickled in at a painfully slow rate through the night, and the next morning.

Tuesday, March 5

An officer of the prisons service helps to carry ballot boxes for stacking after their results were tallied, at a vote tallying center in Nairobi.
An officer of the prisons service helps to carry ballot boxes for stacking after their results were tallied, at a vote tallying center in Nairobi. AP Photo/Ben Curtis

10 a.m.: As results trickled in, people began to gather in groups to analyze and discuss the provisional results being displayed on television screens. Power blackouts across Nairobi’s informal settlements could have caused tension, so a message to urge patience was sent.

Let us be patient & peaceful as results begin coming in over the coming days. We need our country even after the result. Kenya moja, jamii moja. Tudumishe amani! 

2:04 p.m.: Kenyans began to get restless, and question delays in issuing the results. Although they largely exhibited confidence in the election body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), we sent the following message to all areas, in order to preempt any lapse into conspiracy theory.

As results continue to be received and announced, let us avoid conclusions and rumours that could cause tension. We want our area to prosper, so tudumishe amani!

7.14 p.m.: Message sent in Kisii, a city located in southwestern Kenya, to calm tensions after the results were delayed and people began to get impatient and agitate:

As results continue to be received and announced, let us avoid conclusions & rumours that could cause tension.We want Kisii to prosper, so tudumishe amani!

Kenyans stand in the streets in the western part of Nairobi, as preliminary results trickle in for Monday's general election.
Kenyans stand in the streets in the western part of Nairobi, as preliminary results trickle in for Monday’s general election. AP Photo/Jerome Delay

8:38 p.m.: This message was sent in Transmara, when two parties disagreed over results, and rallied their supporters. They wanted to take mass action and resort to violence.

We the people of Transmara will keep peace. Tensions& violence can destroy our families & area. Our peace is important and all issues can be resolved peacefully.

9:39 pm: Tensions rose in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi following an explosion which injured one person. The returning officer called for additional security at the polling stations, amidst general confusion, and accusations of vote tampering. We sent this message to appeal for calm:

We the people of Kamukunji let us be proud of ourselves for staying calm and patient as we wait for the election results. We shall keep peace in Kamukunji.

It may take up to a full week before the results are verified, according to Issack Hassan, the head of IEBC. He urged peace and calm, reminding people that the results being published are provisional and to “resist making early judgments about who has won.” Hassan added that results would not be released within 48 hours of voting.

Although the results so far, as of 8 p.m. Kenya time, give Uhuru Kenyatta a 53.42% lead over his rival Raila Odinga’s 42.03%, many polling stations are yet to report and the process has been delayed by a few logistical and technical glitches. Both candidates have met the first requirement, to gain 25% of the vote in at least 24 of country’s 47 counties. The winner will be decided on whichever candidate takes a majority, more than 50%, of the popular vote. If there is no decisive victor, the vote will go to a second-round runoff to be conducted within 60 days of the results, most likely on April 11.

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