Davies Chirchir versus George Njoroge: Ruto, Raila bank on tech gurus for August poll

George Njoroge

Mr Davies Chirchir, chief of staff in the Office of the Deputy President (left) and Mr George Njoroge, East African Data Handlers Managing Director.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

With the confirmation that the General Election coming up next month is down to technology, Deputy President William Ruto running on a Kenya Kwanza ticket and his main challenger Raila Odinga, who is sponsored by the Azimio coalition, have each tapped two leading Information Technology gurus to help them ascend to the House on the Hill.

Mr Davies Chirchir, the chief Jubilee party agent, who also represented President Uhuru Kenyatta at the national tallying centre in the 2017 elections, is leading the DP’s wing while team Azimio’s ICT chief is Mr George Njoroge, the East African Data Handlers chief executive officer and managing director.

Each camp boasts of star-studded IT gurus with clear assignments to help bring victory home.

Mr Chirchir, who has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nairobi and a Master of Business Administration from the Royal Holloway, University of London, is the current chief of staff in the Office of the Deputy President and being a civil servant chose not to speak to us on record about the ongoing preparations.

Mr Njoroge, on the other hand, is a member of the International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (ISFCE). He holds an MBA in Global Business and a degree in ICT from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

Mr Chirchir has a wealth of experience in electoral matters having been the head of ICT at the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), the precursor of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The DP’s team will be counting on him to do his magic and deliver victory as well as ensuring that nobody tries any monkey games with the electronic voting, transmission and collation of the vote.

Mr Odinga has in the past accused him of tampering with the vote. He is feared within Azimio quarters.

Being a civil servant, handlers of Mr Chirchir said he could not freely discuss the subject although even in his usual character, he rarely engages the press. He prefers operating behind computers.

But Dr Ruto’s running mate Rigathi Gachagua holds the many questions about the mode of voting by Azimio as a sign of panic.

“Our team is ready on all fronts and in a matter of 38 days, this matter will be sorted once and for all,” he said.

Mr Gachagua stated that the statistics did not favour Azimio and it would be in their interest to push for some opaque voting system in order to manipulate the situation.

“The situation is bad for them. All their traditional bases like Coast, Western and Ukambani have shifted in our favour. They have all the reasons to look for scapegoats in the voting system,” he added.

The IEBC insists that it will solely rely on the electronic voter register and will be using electronic gadgets (Kiems kits) to identify voters.

Mr Njoroge argues that the decision puts some 2.3 million votes at risk.

“There are 1,111 non-connected polling centres, each stream is of 700 voters, if each of the dark sites has one stream, a total of 777,700 voters, if they have three, its approximately 2.3 million voters in dark sites we have no visibility of,” the cyber and computer forensics expert told the Nation.

The polls body, however, says it has procured satellite modems to take care of the areas outside the network.

He says that their worry is a situation where those who cannot find themselves in the electronic register yet they are valid voters will be turned away unless there will be a complementary method of identifying them.

“This flies in the face of article 86 (a) of the 2010 Constitution which states that at every election, the commission shall ensure that whatever voting method is used, the system is simple, accurate, secure, accountable and transparent. The essence of this article is to ensure fairness, in that the voter is allowed to exercise his democratic right freely without being frustrated by unnecessary bottlenecks, and his voice is heard and respected by the commission,” Mr Njoroge said.

Mr Odinga’s chief legal adviser Paul Mwangi argued that the law requires IEBC to have a complementary mechanism that was not electronic, contrary to submissions by the IEBC chief executive Marjan Hussein that two judgements had barred them from having a manual register.

While pitching for an electronic identification route, Mr Marjan said the method has backup safeguards that a printed register lacks.

He argued that a manual register would pave the way for collusion to have voters who failed to turn up to polling stations ‘vote.’

Azimio says data from the previous elections supported their case, and it is the reason they are raising their guard. “During the 2017 General Election, about 200, 000 voters were identified manually after the electronic devices failed to recognise them. When a repeat presidential poll was conducted in October of the same year, about 1.6 million voters were identified through alpha numeric search while 428,043 were identified using physical registers.

“Assuming there were no manual registers during the 2017 General Election and the repeat presidential poll, then at least 600, 000 eligible voters would have been denied a chance to vote. This is a big number that can make a whole difference in an election, especially one that is hotly contested,” Mr Njoroge said.

The upcoming presidential poll promises to be a hotly contested one and the difference between the winner and number two might not be so big.

“Imagine a scenario where IEBC locks out 600, 000 voters on account of them not being recognised electronically, then the winner of the presidential seat beats number two with 500,000 votes,” he said.

Mr Njoroge at the same time expressed fears of system tampering. He said in 2013/2017 elections, Idemia provided the Kiems kits and had reservations on the porting of the ROV details into the new Smartmatic election solution tablets, which is critical for the digital biometric identification of voters.

The Azimio team ICT chief says the Software Development Kit (SDK), Firmware and Drivers of the 45,000 Kiems kits were procured in 2017 and there is urgent need to update the SDK and review of the vulnerabilities within each of the firmware in the kits.

“The possibility of there being a clone Kiems kit is highly likely owing to none Geofencing and lack of the GPS coordinates of the kits, restrictive use, authentication and identification of voters and the transmission of the results,” cautions Mr Njoroge.

He further said there is additional opportunity for fraud through viruses and malware.

“This is so because it is always easier to edit and move data in bulk when dealing with electronics than manual documents. All you need is to gain access to the system. So far, we have had two cases of people accessing the IEBC servers. One was confirmed by the DCI in June 2021 and the recent one has been confirmed by the commission itself,” he said.

Azimio accuses the commission of failing to make available a certified copy of the voters’ roll containing the names and ID numbers of voters in each ward to be used in the August polls. The IEBC, however, says this is work in progress.

“The electoral body has also been reluctant to provide a list of all the polling stations, their geo-reference and details of the connectivity to either 3G or 4G network. Details of the number of Kiems kits to be used and their serial numbers, the deployment ratio per polling station and their state of functionality have also not been made available.”

The IEBC has indicated it would relax its earlier position to use the electronic voter register as the sole document of identifying voters in the August 9 elections.

But without a caveat; only as a last resort in case of a technology breakdown.

Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate William Ruto, who had initially appeared to cast his lot with Azimio on the same issue has since had a change of mind and is now rooting for pure electronic voting.

“The electronic register will be the primary document that we shall use but we are also saying that we shall provide the physical register which would be used as a last resort,” IEBC chief executive Hussein Marjan said.

While giving his submissions to the commission last week, DP Ruto said whereas his Kenya Kwanza Alliance also roots for the provision of the manual register to complement the electronic one, his camp would not have an issue with the electronic document if the IEBC puts in place sufficient safeguards.

“There have been notions that are not correct that Kenya Kwanza wants a manual register. If you give us sufficient safeguards that an electronic register will function without any chance of failing, then we’re good to go,” he said.