Ballot tender row is election team’s biggest headache

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairperson Wafula Chebukati (left) confers with chief executive Ezra Chiloba at Anniversary Towers in Nairobi on April 5, 2017 during the weekly media briefing on election matters. The national conference has armed the IEBC with new levels of credibility. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Nasa called for the cancellation of the tender that the IEBC had awarded to a Dubai-based firm, Al Ghurair.
  • The specific allegation that needs addressing is the nature of the relationship between the Kenyatta family and Al Ghurair.

The National Elections Conference that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and its partners convened last week was positioned as a highbrow event for deep reflections on the country’s preparedness for elections, which are now in less than two months.

While the conference met this objective, it also provided a platform for the opposition Nasa to launch a major attack against the IEBC over its management of the tender for the printing of ballots for the elections.

An all-encompassing controversy has now broken out, after the Jubilee Party came out to defend the IEBC against the accusations by Nasa, against whose leader, Raila Odinga, Jubilee has labelled a number of serious counter-accusations.

Nasa first escalated its battle when it called for the cancellation of the tender that the IEBC had awarded to a Dubai-based firm, Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing, and for the resignation of named officials who it claimed had orchestrated the awarding of the tender.

The Thirdway Alliance presidential candidate, Ekuru Aukot, also called for investigations into the tendering controversy, terming it a sham if the Nasa allegations turned out to be true.

On its part, the IEBC denied Nasa’s accusations and insisted that its officials acted properly.


The ruling party, Jubilee, then made a vigorous defence of the IEBC, and alleged that Nasa leader Raila Odinga was fighting Al Ghurair because he wanted a rival company to get the tender with an understanding that the company would make a donation to his election campaign kitty.

The controversy over the ballot printing tender is not the only issue of concern that arose from the conference last week.

Although he sent a representative, the decision by President Uhuru Kenyatta to skip the conference is also of some concern.

From Eldoret where the Jubilee leader was on that day, he unilaterally arranged a live coverage of his own speech, as if speaking at the conference, where his representative repeated the same speech.

The National Conference on Elections was the closest that the country got to the kind of national dialogue that the opposition has demanded since Jubilee took power in 2013.

At every turn, it has not been possible to hold such dialogue, largely because the President’s party has shown little interest.


After its initial demand for dialogue was thwarted in 2014, the opposition instituted street protests late last year with fresh demands for dialogue to resolve the fate of the IEBC commissioners.

However, rather than agreeing to talks in the manner that the opposition had conceived them, Jubilee only yielded to a structured parliamentary process through which a number of the issues outstanding at the time were discussed.

As the two main political adversaries, if Kenyatta and Odinga came together during last week’s conference, as had been intended, it would have provided useful symbolism that would calm the country ahead of the elections.

It would also have sent the message that even as President, Kenyatta recognises and is subject to the authority of the IEBC, like all other candidates.

By staying away, Kenyatta snubbed the last meaningful opportunity to come to table with the opposition ahead of the elections and has also allowed space for mixed messages about how he regards the IEBC, and his competitor.

Moreover, his vigorous defence of the IEBC, made in the speech that was read on his behalf at the conference and now repeated during the tendering controversy, has created the same dynamics that existed before the current commissioners came to office, where a seemingly cornered IEBC habitually sheltered under the protection of Jubilee, leading to a view that so long as the IEBC had the validation of the ruling party, nothing else mattered.

While hosting such a successful conference sent a clear message that the IEBC is in charge of the elections, allowing Jubilee to be its patron comes with the risk that the IEBC is going back to the place where predecessor commissioners had reached before they were removed from office.

Thus, the first big test for the IEBC has arisen unexpectedly and has to do with how it will resolve the ballot printing controversy.

The IEBC has made it clear that it is not going back on the award of the tender and that the elections will now proceed on the basis of the decisions already made.

The reasonableness of this decision will need to be demonstrated with a lot more information than the IEBC has so far provided.

The specific allegation that needs addressing is the nature of the relationship between the Kenyatta family and Al Ghurair.

The opposition claims the relationship between the President’s family and the company as private and the award of the tender compromises the integrity of the elections.


The opposition alleges in awarding the tender to Al Ghurair, the IEBC did not act independently but was responding to the dictates of the family.

Seemingly lacking the means to independently address this allegation, it appears that the IEBC has chosen to adopt the denial that National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale made on behalf of the President.

In a sense, this decision is based on convenience since a contrary decision would have required the IEBC to ask the police to investigate the President and his family.

In retrospect, the IEBC started skating on thin ice the moment it made a decision to go for direct procurement, exposing itself to the financial and political pressure that comes with buying big ticket items.

The only defence against the accusations that it is now facing would have been for the IEBC to demonstrate that the award was made competitively.

Since this defence is not available, the IEBC must provide as much information as possible, so as to demonstrate that accusations of involvement of the Kenyatta family are unfounded.

While the national conference has armed the IEBC with new levels of credibility, these will be short-lived unless the elections body finds a credible way of emerging from the Dubai company imbroglio.

In the context of this whole election, the next few days will be interesting for the IEBC and the country.