2022 polls tech provider gets trademark in Kenya
Smartmatic International, the company that supplied technology in the disputed 2022 polls, has applied to register its trademark locally, giving the strongest indication of its plan to extend its dealings with the electoral agency.
The application and subsequent acceptance as captured in the February edition of the monthly journal by the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (Kipi) has since triggered a major political storm.
The Opposition, Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition, claimed that the registration of the trademark locally as well as the ongoing recruitment of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners – which they have demanded be stopped – was part of the wider plans by the ruling Kenya Kwanza Alliance to influence re-election of President William Ruto in 2027.
The coalition vowed to reject any further involvement of the company in the country’s future elections for allegedly conspiring with the IEBC to rig out its presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
Dr Ruto’s win was affirmed by the Supreme Court, declaring him as the validly elected president, but Mr Odinga has disputed the outcome and has since planned a major anti-government rally in Nairobi on Monday to 'reclaim stolen victory.'
“Registration of this mark shall give no right to the exclusive use of the words 'technology', 'to', 'serve' and 'all' each separately and apart from the mark as a whole,” states the document.
Efforts to reach out to the company to inquire on what informed their decision to register locally bore no fruits as they did not respond to our emails this week and a follow-up to inquire on the delay.
But IEBC, through its chief executive officer Marjan Hussein Marjan, told Sunday Nation that it has an existing contract with the firm that runs until November 2024.
It was not immediately clear whether the commission would consider renewing the contract.
IEBC is on record that it conducted one of the most transparent elections in the country's history through the help of the technology provided by the firm.
“We only have a framework contract with Smartmatic for three years beginning November 2021,” said Mr Marjan.
The firm ran into trouble with the opposition when it declined full access to servers hosting Form 34C as it would infringe its intellectual property rights.
Mr Odinga had also accused the firm of running four parallel servers, two in the country and two outside the country, to execute the alleged manipulation, claims the electoral agency and the firm have denied.
Smartmatic was contracted by IEBC to supply up to 14,110 new Kenya Integrated Election Management System (Kiems) to complement the commission’s existing inventory of 32,119 kits.
It is also the software provider for the kits, having replaced OT Morpho, now called Idemia, which was the technology service provider for IEBC in 2017.
ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya, party chairman John Mbadi, Azimio Secretary General Junet Mohammed and Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi separately told the Sunday Nation that the registration points at a possible assurance to the firm that it will continue supplying electoral technology beyond the existing contract.
“This company has been mentioned adversely and you know if elections are not free and fair, it has a potential of causing instability in the country. This company faced accusations and allegations of rigging the last election. So even if they decide to register in the country, I don’t think they should be allowed to participate in any polls ,” said Mr Oparanya.
“As a country, we allow foreign investments, so if they’re coming in to do other things not related to elections, then they’re free to do that, but they should not contemplate seeking to run another election. Their involvement would cause unnecessary instability in this country,” he added.
Mr Mbadi said the firm would be insensitive to the feelings of Kenyans by trying to continue offering its services even in the backdrop of the uproar around its last involvement in polls.
“It is evident that if they have registered their trademark, they would want to continue operating locally. We wonder what other business they would want to be involved in other than the obvious one, which is the election. Azimio has indicted them on how they conducted the last poll. The best thing for them to do is to quit the Kenyan market, especially on matters elections. They can try their luck elsewhere. We have a serious issue with them on the assignment that they were given,” said Mr Mbadi.
Mr Osotsi suggested that the firm could have not sought local registration in the absence of any assurance that they will continue offering their services to IEBC.
“It is a clear indication that they would want to continue operating in Kenya. All these have connections with what you are seeing by the ruling alliance's attempt to have people friendly to them installed as the new electoral commissioners,” the Vihiga senator said.
Mr Mohammed said, “Nobody in this country will allow that firm to offer electoral technology here again. They shouldn’t waste their time trying to continue.”
But some of the ruling alliance politicians said the firm ensured transparent and credible election results.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said there was no reason to deny them future contracts so long as they followed the procurement requirements.
He also said that registering locally does not mean that Kenya is their only market, arguing that the firm could be seeking to offer its services to the entire region after they managed “an excellent” election in the country.
“So long as they follow the procurement law, why should they be denied the opportunity to continue with their exceptional job,” said Mr Cherargei.
Nyaribari Chache MP Zaheer Jhanda said it was far-fetched to conclude that by registering locally the firm would win a contract for 2027.
Smartmatic has been accused of providing flawed kits in United States, Venezuela, Zambia, Uganda and the Philippines, claims they termed injurious.