IEBC must grow spine, obey law

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati speaks at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on July 7, 2022.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) can cause this country no end of trouble, or it can edify, elevate, restore the nation’s confidence in itself and cause peace and prosperity to reign.

Already, Kenyans are withdrawing to that familiar refusal to countenance electoral defeat and you will often hear them say “the only way we can lose is if we are rigged out” or “he can’t win unless they rig him in” or “that party is full of system-savvy thugs and will steal votes”.

But if you are blindingly objective, if your life, or fortune, does not depend on the victory of one candidate, you will see that, the hype and political bravado notwithstanding, the political landscape is sharply tilted and that the stuffing of a few boxes and a little bit of thuggery is unlikely to suffice. It will take a complete meltdown of the IEBC system to deliver a victory in conflict with the will of the people; and even then, that would be impossible to convincingly sell.

We want to be governed by the candidate we choose, not one chosen for us by IEBC or some election-savvy cabal. Unless IEBC acts with great caution, this election could still lead to a post-election crisis, violence and possibly even some limited civil strife. It must convince the most sceptical of naturally unbelieving Kenyan that the election was a clean, competent operation. That way, peace of the country and the commissioners and staff is guaranteed.

Good outcome

Four things will give us a good outcome.

First, IEBC should behave with perfect transparency. The commission, or commissioners and staff, should not be involved in conspiracies with anyone. It must act and take decisions in full public view. For example, IEBC ought to have warned candidates, and the public in general, of the early delivery of ballot papers, a full month before Election Day, and reassure all that there is nothing untoward about it.

Secondly, it must, demonstrably, act in strict conformity with the law. For example, if the law says you need to be a one-legged hunchback to run, nobody with two legs should be allowed to run, even if they have no ears and nose. The law is not a suggestion; IEBC should develop a reputation for being a stickler for the law and not that of a stick-in-the-mud organisation that bends which way the wind blows.

Same treatment

Thirdly, everybody should get the same treatment. There should be no Josephs in coats of many colours or holy cows. The back and forth with regard to Nairobi gubernatorial candidate Johnson Sakaja, for example, is absolutely in bad form; he either has a degree or he does not. And who is the competent authority to confirm whether he does or does not have it?

Qualifications are problematic

Even a one-eyed fool can see that Mr Sakaja’s qualifications are problematic. If the Commission for University Education does not recognise Mr Sakaja’s distance learning degree, you can bet your last coin that, even if he wins the election, it will be petitioned and only a very brave court would uphold his victory.

Senior members of IEBC should be careful in the friendships they form, so that they do not telegraph the wrong thing. There is a limit to how close you can get to the people whose electoral futures you are charged with deciding. Electoral officials are like judges; their personal lives are extensions of their official ones.

Looking confused

In the meantime, the whole saga leaves the commission looking confused, indecisive and partial. Its firm determination in sending away a billionaire who came with a promise to get a degree by December will be forgotten in the whole Ugandan Zoom classes tall tales.

Finally, IEBC should conduct business with consistency—no sudden moves, no unexplained veering off-course, no seemingly irrational decisions. If you want to do away with the manual register, lead up to it with discussion and persuasion, convince political parties and a suspicious public that it is for the common good.

Don’t decide behind closed doors; communicate, persuade, reassure. This is Kenya, after all, where people still believe that a person “does not just die” but somebody must have done something to them.

Moses Wetang’ula

I think the involvement of Mr Moses Wetang’ula, the senator for Bungoma, in commission business is not a good development. The allegation that he invited representatives of the firm given the job of printing ballot papers to the country and tour Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and other western counties to explore investment opportunities as well as the reported dispatching of a minion for a benchmarking visit sounded ominous and are disturbing. They probably merit further investigation, to put the public mind at rest that there is no wash-washy business afoot.

Already, IEBC wears the shame of being one of the very few electoral authorities in Africa to have a presidential election nullified by the court for failure to follow the law and laid-down procedure. Kenyans are rooting for IEBC to rise from the ashes of this infamy and establish a reputation for thoroughness, firmness, fairness and professionalism.

Don’t let us down again.


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