The nine lives of Wafula Chebukati
For about three years since the 2017 General Election, commissioners of the independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have been living one day at a time.
Immediately after the Supreme Court nullified the August 2017 presidential election, the opposition coalition Nasa started calling for an overhaul of IEBC, which meant sending home not only the staff of the secretariat but also the commissioners.
The resignation of Dr Roselyn Akombe on the eve of the October 2017 repeat presidential election, followed by Connie Nkatha Maina, Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya, left IEBC with three commissioners, the bare minimum that can legally run it.
And then, when the first Building Bridges Initiative report came out in 2019, it again recommended the overhaul of IEBC because public “faith” in it was low. The commission was not amused.
“This targeted onslaught against the commission is not new as it has been occurring after every General Election since 1992,” IEBC said in a statement, adding that “the sustained campaigns weaken and interfere” with its independence. The eventual Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 omitted all the earlier overhauling recommendations.
Later, when he appeared before the taskforce, Chairman Wafula Chebukati dismissed the push to send all his senior staff home as ill-advised.
“Going into the 2022 General Election with a new set of commissioners and secretariat staff will not only seriously undermine the credibility of the elections, but may also result in political instability,” Mr Chebukati told the BBI team in a memorandum.
The remaining three commissioners — Mr Chebukati, Mr Boya Molu and Prof Abdi Guliye — have survived against all odds. Friday’s special gazette notice declaring vacancies in the commission confirmed that the three, who have since the resignations faced constant calls of their removal, may yet complete their terms, which end in 2023.
“The fact that they have survived the onslaught should make them stronger. But things have also conspired to work for them somehow. They have benefitted from the circumstances we find ourselves in today,” said Mr Mulle Musau, the national coordinator of the Elections Observation Group (ELOG).
Electoral laws and governance expert Felix Odhiambo concurred that Mr Chebukati may have broken the jinx of commissioners being appointed for a single electoral cycle and then replaced ahead of the next election. Mr Odhiambo is the executive director of Electoral Law and Governance Institute in Africa (ELGIA).
The Krieglar commission recommended that the electoral body should be in place at least 24 months before a General Election. The Chebukati commission was appointed just seven months to the 2017 elections.
The four new commissioners will join the current three to prepare for the 2022 elections. For Mr Chebukati, Mr Molu and Prof Guliye, overseeing the 2022 elections will be achieving a feat last enjoyed by the disgraced and defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya, under the late Samuel Kivuitu, who presided over the 2002 and 2007 elections.
The filling of the four vacancies at IEBC could also usher in the staggered recruitment of commissioners that some experts have long advocated for to ensure continuity. The current three commissioners’ terms expire in 2023, just two years after the appointment of the four who will have been recruited later this year.