It is interesting that it took the European Union election observers to warn on the possibility of violence around the elections to prompt the National Cohesion and Integration Commission to come out publicly. Civil society has been highlighting these risks for months, but the media has given scanty coverage to the reports.
Much of the focus is on the role of politicians in exacerbating tensions. This is important, but we are courting disaster if we don’t address the most important triggers to chaos.
We all want peace. But we need to be clear what sort of peace we want. We could either have a forced calm that bubbles just below the surface, waiting for the inevitable explosion when the right trigger occurs, or we could have a credible peace, predicated on an election that we know has been conducted fairly, transparently and professionally, no matter the outcome.
It is clear that the single most important determinant of whether this country survives or not, and how it survives, is the IEBC. How it conducts the elections, how it assures us of its competence and professionalism, and how it decides on transparency, integrity and independence is crucial. It is silly, nay dangerous, to admonish us to “let the IEBC do its job” as if it has no obligation to Kenyans and as if it were above accountability. If criticism of IEBC weakens it, then we are in deep trouble!
For IEBC to reduce its trigger value, it needs to change fast. First, it needs to make sure that all the electronic safeguards work well. There is no room for another “system failure” excuse, or that the gadgets run out of battery. The EVIDs must be linked to the central register, ticking off people as they are thumb-printed so that no ghosts vote mysteriously.
IEBC also needs to make public the final register, as well as the KPMG audit immediately. And we all need to make sure that there are no dead voters on the register, and that typing zero or non-existent ID numbers does not bring up names of alleged voters. In fact, if the EVIDs work as they should, given their massive cost, there should be no further need for ID cards and passports as voter identification items.
Also, the IEBC must ensure that every polling station — whose results can’t be changed — has enough light during the counting, whether that is KPLC power or by using rechargeable spotlights that turn the night into day. Torches and lights from cell phones will not be acceptable and darkness will likely be taken as a sign of dubious shenanigans.
And because results are now final at the polling stations, IEBC should accredit enough independent observers so that every polling station has at least two independent observers in addition to the party agents.
The second important threat to peace is the police. According to IMLU, Kenyans are four times more likely to be killed by security forces than by thugs — something we share with conflict countries — and impunity reigns.
Though antithetical to their DNA, the police must allow people to protest or celebrate peacefully. They should learn de-escalation technics for dealing with crowds and should facilitate protesters expressing their constitutional rights non-violently. The old ways of intimidation, indiscriminate use of force and forced dispersal only lead to more violence and chaos. Remember, too, that in 2008 there were more fatalities and injuries from the police than from ‘ethnic’ violence.
Finally, the Jubilee regime must ensure that the Internet, media and cellular services are not disrupted even for a minute. Even a real technical error could spike tensions irretrievably. The regime should stop abusing and misusing public resources for campaigning, as that sends the message that it will stop at nothing — from blatantly breaking the law and cheating — to ensure it is declared the winner.
So as we fervently pray, march and meditate for peace, we should be asking for divine intervention where it is truly needed: for the IEBC, police and the Jubilee regime to get the divine grace, courage and fortitude to do the right thing and keep us safe, secure and stable. Only then can the promise of our constitution begin to flower.