Samuel Kivuitu, the former head of the now-defunct Election Commission of Kenya, has died in hospital after a prolonged fight against throat cancer.
Raila Odinga, prime minister, called the 74-year-old a forthright man who often spoke his mind, without fear or favour, in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Kivuitu oversaw Kenya’s general elections in 1997 and 2002 and a constitutional referendum in 2005.
He will be remembered, however, for his role in the disputed 2007 election. He was accused of political bias and weakness in the face of alleged manipulation after declaring incumbent President Mwai Kibaki the victor of the poll.
As protests against perceived fraud in the vote turned violent and divided the country along largely tribal lines, Kivuitu appeared to go back on his declaration, famously stating: “I do not know whether Kibaki won the election.”
Odinga said: “I do know for a fact that Mr Kivuitu did not hesitate to speak his mind about the problems we faced, even as we embarked on the 2007 elections, particularly when it came to the controversial appointment of the Electoral Commission in a manner that most flagrantly violated the Inter-Parties Political Agreement [IPPG] spirit as had been negotiated prior to the 1997 elections.”
‘Peace and comfort’
Educated in Uganda and Tanzania, Kivuitu was elected to parliament for two terms in the 1970s and 1980s, while Kenya was still under single-party rule. A lawyer and civil servant, he was appointed by Kibaki to take charge of the 2007 poll.
Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy prime minister, due to face trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity – allegations stemming from the violence following the 2007 election – tweeted his condolences.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of Mr Kivuitu,” he posted. “I pray that God grants his family and friends peace and comfort during this time of grief.”
Also on Tuesday, Fatou Bensouda, ICC prosecutor, agreed to Kenyatta’s request that the trial in The Hague be postponed until August. The case was due to be heard on April 10. Under those circumstances, if Kenyatta were elected next week, one of his first official appearances was likely to be in the dock.
“Because it appears that the court’s operational restraints may make an April start date untenable in any event, the prosecution does not object to a reasonable adjournment,” said Bensouda. “The prosecution suggests that a start date immediately after the court’s summer recess may be appropriate.”
Kenyans will go to the polls to elect a new president on Monday, March 4.