We must fix IEBC to avoid being the laughing stock on electoral contests

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai
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It is amazing how the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) seems adept at repeating its own negative history. And frustrating that we never seem to learn from history, even as recently as 2013! There is no doubt that the 2013 elections were a mess and a façade. The Supreme Court made a disastrous ruling at the time endorsing the results, perhaps because they were fooled by the scrutiny delivered by then Chief Registrar, or perhaps because they did not bother to read the entire pleadings before them, relying instead on summaries made for them by assistants and on oral submissions that they did not even verify.

Their decision did not close the chapter on that debacle, and quite a few citizens and bodies continued casting doubt about the elections process and results. About a year after those regrettable elections, the IEBC commissioned an internal review. While it would have been more transparent to do an external review, the results leaked to the public were shocking. They confirmed the absolute mess the elections were, and exposed weaknesses and defects that pointed to the fact that it was impossible to tell who had won. The process was severely compromised.
 

At about the same time, reports about suspicious procurement started trickling in, making the opacity within IEBC crystal clear as regards issues related to finances. So much so that arrests were made because it was obvious that the systems and structures at IEBC were conducive to corruption and theft. Essentially, if systems and structures are so open to theft of public resources, what stops them from being susceptible to theft of votes? Fast forward to 2018. Just months after the August polls, which this time the Supreme Court adjudged to have had illegalities and irregularities, we are witnessing revelations of procurement shenanigans! There is more here than meets the eye.

Interestingly, before the August elections, quite a few in the international community went out of their way to sanitise IEBC, which was suffering a credibility crisis. The same people who had blessed the flawed 2013 elections were now acknowledging that the processes in that election had been seriously compromised, but asserting that the current IEBC had sealed the loopholes, but without offering evidence. But if IEBC can’t seal procurement loopholes, can we really expect it to seal voting and tallying loopholes? This time, we must get a handle on IEBC and its glaring weaknesses. It is not enough to change the CEO and Commissioners, though they should all go. We must do something about elections and electoral justice.

There is no other country where elections are such a source of fear, death and intimidation. In fact, whenever I meet knowledgeable people from Africa, USA, Latin America, Europe and Asia the first question they ask is why Kenyans always seem to treat elections like civil war. Why are we keen, they ask, to steal elections and fight each other every five years?This is a narrative we must end or we will remain the laughing stock of the world with Burundi, DRC and Somalia! And we can only sort this out if we start looking into this matter this year and not wait till it’s too late to do reconstruction.

The Krieglar Commission set up after the 2008 crisis will have to shoulder some blame for not going far enough to sort out the mess from the 2007 elections. It refused, despite some spirited dissent from two of its members, to dig into what could have happened at the KICC tallying centre, stating that it had got enough information from the polling stations to decide that both sides had stuffed votes in their strongholds.

We must build on the incomplete job by the Krieglar Commission and do a proper investigation of 2013 and August 2017 even it means getting external assistance. But given the obvious bias of the UN in Kenya, US, UK, Germany and some EU countries, we must be careful accepting the help they would offer, as we already know what answers they would want!

In fact, the Raila Odinga/Uhuru Kenyatta handshake will amount to zero, and continue the mess that our elections have become, if it does not recommend a deep look at what happened in 2013 and 2017. The idea is not to recover split milk but to seal the loopholes that make IEBC a sieve for ballot theft and procurement woes.
 

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