Election donors change tack after restrictions

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chairman Wafula Chebukati.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Donors who have funded Kenya’s past elections are changing tack, channelling most of their support to local organisations and government agencies following restriction on direct funding to the poll agency by the state.

At the same time, the few donor groups that have been allowed to work with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) directly only signed memorandums of understanding recently.

Their engagements are largely limited to training, institutional strengthening and paying salaries of consultants.

The government in 2020 said organisations that want to fund IEBC programmes directly must apply and obtain clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A senior official at the ministry then referred to some of the donors as “infiltrators” and “scavengers” working for the interests of foreign powers.

That came on the heels of the nullification of the 2017 presidential election by the Supreme Court, which the government and supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta blamed on outside influence.

The decision by the government was largely driven by the anger that followed the nullifying of the election.

In a March interview with the Voice of America, Deputy President William Ruto highlighted the ban on foreign support to IEBC as an indicator of interference in the commission’s mandate.

“There is no doubt that without interference, the IEBC has the capacity to deliver on its mandate. But when public officials openly want to compromise the capacity of IEBC by giving directions to people who have traditionally supported the commission, what does that tell you?” he asked.

Centre for Multi-party Democracy Executive Director, Frankline Mukwanja, said donors are still interested in the August 9 General Election.

“But they are funding non-core issues and avoiding strategic ones like technology,” Mr Mukwanja said.

“Instead they are supporting aspects of facilitating vulnerable groups to participate as voters and as candidates, strengthening dispute resolution mechanisms of political parties and supporting the entire political party dispute resolution mechanisms including the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal, the Judiciary Committee on Elections among others.”

The opinion is shared by Mr Mulle Musau, the National Coordinator of the Elections Observation Group, who sees the donors’ change of tack as a way of avoiding upsetting the government.

“In the meetings I have attended the donors are very cautious in light of the position taken by the government. They supporting police in preparation for the General Election,” Mr Musau added. 

“It could be their way of saying they are considering everybody. There is also a lot of use of local actors working in the space of elections.”

But concerns have been raised that the government is taking long to approve applications by donors who seek to work with the IEBC.

“Some donors made the requests as directed but they were not granted,” Mr Mukwanja said.

Of the partners working with IEBC, the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) only signed an agreement with the poll agency about a week ago.

ECES will implement a Pro-Peace Kenya project dubbed Uchaguzi Bila Noma 2022, in collaboration with IEBC, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and others.

The UN Development Programme, which in the past years has managed the donor basket fund – Support to Electoral Processes in Kenya – also came in this year.

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