Lately, I have been thinking a lot about chira. In Luo language and culture, the closest translation of chira is “curse”. It results from an infraction of the kwer (taboos) and can befall an individual, a clan, a community or even a nation. In some cases, ritual cleansing can take away the chira. However, the chira arising from killing a person cannot be removed through rituals. It remains with you, your clan and your community. I am convinced that a chira from the kidnap, torture and brutal assassination of Christopher Msando haunts Kenya to date. The dire state of the economy, socio-economic inequalities, political polarisation, corruption, and state capture, all seem to have gotten worse in the last three years.
To refresh our memories, Christopher Msando was the Information Communications Technology (ICT) manager at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Msando oversaw key ICT processes, including the audit of the register of voters and the data centre project. Crucially, he was the project manager for the electronic transmission of results for the 2017 presidential elections. Msando was one of the few Africans who had access to the highly sensitive results transmission system set up by the French company Safran/OT Morpho (now renamed IDEMIA). Safran had been single-sourced by the IEBC to deliver the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS), in a contract worth close to Sh6b. The deal was so scandalous that even the state-captured Kenya National Assembly’s Parliamentary Accounts Committee on 24 April 2019 banned Safran/OT Morpho/IDEMIA from operating in Kenya for ten years.
Msando had been unanimously nominated by the Wafula Chebukati-led Commission to lead key ICT processes. He was hard working, had superb technical skills, a strong team spirit and excellent communication skills. Msando was an honest man, who at times seemed quite naïve in the trust he placed in his bosses to do the right thing. He was transparent in sharing the loopholes in the ICT system and revealed how some “external” actors had already gained access to it, months before the August 2017 election. He explained complex processes to the Commissioners in layman’s language, without making them feel insecure due to their lack of ICT knowledge. This is probably the singular reason the Commission chose him over his then boss, James Muhati, to be responsible for the ICT operations for the 2017 election. Unlike Muhati, Msando did not show the Commissioners disdain for their ignorance or incompetence.
One of the few defiant actions taken by the Chebukati Commission was to suspend Muhati in May 2017, allegedly for failing to cooperate with an internal audit. But as press reports indicated at the time, there was more to the story than the Commission revealed. The suspension took Muhati’s close friend, then Chief Executive Officer, Ezra Chiloba, by surprise. Chiloba made several attempts to block the suspension from being executed, prompting a reprimand from the Commissioners. Msando was unanimously appointed the officer-in-charge of the ICT directorate.
Within a month of being in charge of the ICT directorate, Msando finalised the register of voters, secured a new data centre, developed the workflow for the electronic transmission of presidential results and sealed some technical loopholes in the KIEMS gadgets that would have enabled “dead voters” to vote. It is probably these measures that he had put in place that gave Msando the confidence to say to John-Allan Namu in an interview in June 2017 that “no dead voters will rise under my watch”. And indeed, with his assassination, potentially, many “dead voters” voted.
Reports indicate that the intention of the Commission had been to keep Muhati suspended until the end of the 2017 elections. However, former Commission staff say that Chebukati received a “dossier” from the Jubilee Secretary-General, Raphael Tuju, falsely claiming that Msando was working for the opposition coalition, NASA. Incidentally, death threats against Msando intensified during this period. He spoke openly about them, showed friends and colleagues the chilling text messages, and with his typical hearty laughter, brushed them off as he went on with his work almost unperturbed. Despite making official reports, no measures were taken to address his concerns. Msando was not even provided with a Commission vehicle and security, which he was entitled to by dint of his functions.
In the meantime, the pressure to reinstate Muhati intensified. There are reports that Deputy President William Ruto and his wife Rachel Ruto called almost all the Commissioners to demand the reinstatement of Muhati, who is a close friend from their University days. Those who did not get a direct call from the Deputy President or his wife, had the message delivered by his Chief of Staff, Ambassador Ken Osinde. Despite protests from two of the Commissioners, Muhati quietly returned from his suspension on 1 June 2017, and from then on, Msando’s days on earth were numbered.
The reports of Msando’s disappearance on 29 July shocked but did not surprise many at the Commission. The threats had been there for many months including on the lives of Chebukati and former Commissioner Roselyn Akombe. One would say that the manner in which these threats were handled by the Commission made the environment conducive for Msando to be assassinated. The silence emboldened his assassins to go ahead with their plan. For their silence, the chira from Msando’s murder will forever remain with Chebukati, Akombe and the other Commissioners.
On that fateful day on 29 July 2017, it is alleged that Chiloba and Muhati asked Msando not to go home after his KTN interview at 7 pm. It is reported that Msando and a friend decided to have drinks at a joint near the Commission’s Anniversary Towers office, as they waited for further instructions from Chiloba and Muhati. Details of what exactly happened to Msando from that Friday night until his bruised body was identified at the City Mortuary on 31 July 2017 will eventually come out. It is clear that there are many colleagues of Msando’s who have more information than they have revealed in public. To many them, chira for their silence will forever hang over them.
But of course, the harshest chira is reserved for those who ordered, aided and executed Msando’s abduction, torture and assassination. If there is something that history has confirmed to us on many occasions, it is that justice is always served, no matter how long it takes. Just this year, we have seen the fugitive Félicien Kabuga, an alleged leader and financier of the 1994 Rwandan genocide arrested. Monuments in honour of those who perpetuated grave injustices including racism, slavery and colonialism for more than 400 years have been brought down in the United States and Europe. And just last month in Germany, 94-year-old Reinhold Hanning was convicted of being “an accessory” to the murder of thousands of Jews while he worked as a guard at the Auschwitz Death Camp. It took 77 years to convict him for crimes he committed at the age of 17, but justice was eventually served.
It does not matter how long it will take, justice for Chris Msando will be served. Msando’s children Allan, Alvin, Alama and Alison deserve to know why their daddy was murdered. His widow Eva has several unanswered questions. Mama Maria needs to know why her last-born son could not have been jailed if he had done something wrong, rather than wake up every morning to his grave in Lifunga. Msando’s siblings deserve closure. But three years on, the investigators have no answers to offer nor have they shown any interest in the case. Politicians like Moses Kuria, Kimani Ngunjiri and Oscar Sudi continue to recklessly play politics with such a painful issue. But Msando’s friends are quietly pursuing the leads. Quietly documenting the facts. For, eventually, Kenya will have to reckon with its history of political assassinations.
In the meantime, over to juok, to continue raining chira on those who contributed in any way to the abduction, torture and assassination of Msando.