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Gray Phombeah

Reporting of elections may need, at times, to take into account the circumstances under which the particular election is being held, especially where serious questions are raised about the openness or fairness of the electoral process.

Kenya's elections: hearing many voices - by Gray Phombeah, Senior Radio Journalist, BBC World Service

After 24 years in power, Daniel Arap Moi was bound by the constitution to bow out.

But up to election time in December 2002, he remained ambiguous about his plans to step down. So the question on everyone's lips was: Will he?

Questions about fairness

In 1992 and 1997, Moi had won the first and second multiparty elections - thanks mainly to a fractious opposition. The two elections were also marred by widespread political violence and allegations of massive rigging.

This time around, his preferred choice of a successor - a political nonentity – led critics to fear that Moi wanted to continue to rule behind the scenes.

But his choice also dashed the hopes of senior politicians in his own party, forcing them to defect to the opposition.

Then, the opposition rallied behind Mwai Kibaki and for the first time achieved a united front to take on the ruling party.


The BBC African Service has been here in Kenya before – covering the two Kenyan elections in 1992 and 1997, and other major events in the east African region for many years.

Now was the time to revisit our core values and focus on trust and impartiality that had become the unique mark of BBC content in our coverage of events in Kenya.

The African Service – spearheading five outputs, namely Swahili, Somali, Hausa, French for Africa and African English – established small bureaux in strategic points in the country to provide news and features series that explained complex issues surrounding the Kenyan elections.

Our phone-ins and live reports allowed different voices and opinions to be heard on every issue we covered.

Influencing elections

Care was taken not to influence the election process, especially on election day, by not airing programmes or reports which in one way or another could have swayed undecided voters.

I found working under a partnership between different parts of the BBC as the most rewarding. Doing radio for Swahilis and African English, and filing text pieces and digital pictures for News Online made me feel more fully part of the BBC.

In the end, the Kenyan appetite for change swept Moi's party from power.

And the BBC – on radio, TV or online – was there to cover the event as Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as Kenya's third president and the first opposition leader to take over power after Kanu's 40-year rule since Independence in 1963.

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