Key lessons from 2022 elections

voting

A woman casts her ballot at Dandora Secondary School polling station in Nairobi during Kenya's General Election on August 9, 2022. 

Photo credit: Patrick Meinhardt | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Mr Chebukati and some members of his team proved to be persons of great integrity.
  • The elections also showed limitations and consequences of fake opinion polls.

The peaceful transfer of power following the August 9 General Election is an admirable demonstration that Kenya enjoys a thriving democracy, midwifed by a range of independent institutions and public servants who have shown that they can defy political interference to deliver a credible election.

We continue to be trailblazers and shine as a rare beacon of hope in Africa.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairperson Wafula Chebukati has been widely—and rightly—lauded for making the electoral process open, transparent and verifiable.

Mr Chebukati and some members of his team proved to be persons of great integrity. They heroically withstood bullying, intimidation and physical assault from elements of the outgoing regime and the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party in the presence of diplomats, accredited poll observers and journalists. And Chebukati’s judgment was questioned—at first by the four errant commissioners, followed by the losing side—but he successfully defended himself and his work before the Supreme Court.

When Samuel Kivuitu buckled under comparable circumstances in 2007, the country plunged into a tragic bloodbath. To prevent future copycats, we must end impunity. It is imperative to hold all those who planned, enabled and tried to subvert the will of the people to account.

But the elections yielded other important lessons. For instance, the hurried enactment of retrogressive laws, such as the Political Parties Act, was of little benefit. As in 2002, the polls showed that a sitting president cannot always sway voters.

Like Daniel arap Moi, his teacher and mentor, incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta had several misguided steps—such as an attempt at balkanising the electorate along ethnic lines and mocking and harassing his deputy William Ruto and his  Kenya Kwanza Alliance allies. He deployed public administration officers and misused public resources on his candidate.

But all these efforts ended in utter and complete failure with voters in his Mount Kenya region backyard sending poignant and unmistakable rebuke of the President. While the Head of State had been warned that his political calculations were risky and unwise, he knowingly chose a path that ended in embarrassment.

Fake opinion polls

The elections also showed limitations and consequences of fake opinion polls. Azimio candidate Raila Odinga did himself great harm following his 2018 ‘Handshake’ with President Kenyatta. That event is now seen as a poisoned chalice.

Instead of using that to grow his base and expand his tent, the former Prime Minister spurned his ardent supporters. He cast aside party leaders Senator Moses Wetang’ula (Ford-Kenya) and former Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) like unwanted brides and followed up mocking them publicly and repeatedly whenever he set foot in Luhyaland. He disrespected former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka by subjecting him to a humiliating sham of an interview.

While it was evident these actions had consequences and were eroding his base, Raila resorted to fake and biased opinion polls that could not be convincingly explained by the so-called pollsters. The Azimio camp was so deluded by the false numbers they erected billboards broadcasting his “unassailable lead”. He even brought the opinion polls to the Supreme Court as pieces of credible evidence!

There are reasons to believe Raila had access to genuine and credible polls. While campaigning in Bungoma a few days to the elections, he allegedly cited findings of a rumoured confidential poll conducted by the NIS which showed him losing by a wide margin to his main opponent in that county. And when the votes were cast, Raila lost Bungoma just as he had lamented.

Mainstream media

There is something to be said about our mainstream media in the run-up to and during the elections: They were overly partisan, biased and decisively anti-Ruto. Some TV and radio programmes and newspaper articles were potentially libellous. While newspapers carried misleading headlines, media personalities, guests and columnists made outrageous statements without offering a scintilla of evidence.

Tacit collusion between media houses, declining editorial standards and plain bad journalism hastened an exodus to the social media platforms, where voters could hear directly from their candidates. A handful of influential accounts—like digital strategist Dennis Itumbi’s Hustler Nation Intelligence Bureau and Dr Ruto’s personal Twitter handles—effectively countered and neutralised falsehood, bias and misinformation dispensed almost nonstop on mainstream media.

The ‘Fourth Estate’ plays an important role in a democracy. In view of the clear mistakes that were made, it is imperative that the stakeholders propose the necessary changes to restore public trust.

Mr Chesoli is a New York-based development economist and global policy expert. [email protected]

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