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Chiloba blames IEBC in tiff over areas without mobile network

By Brian Otieno - May 21st 2022
IEBC Commissioner Abdi Guliye during an interview with the Standard at the IEBC offices Anniversary Towers Nairobi on May 20, 2022.  [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya is on the cusp of a crisis in the transmission of election results, which may affect the presidential contest due to network coverage challenges.

At the heart of the impending hurdle, is the status of the 3G network coverage, which has put the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) at loggerheads with the Communication Authority of Kenya (CA). 

With 80 days to the August 9 General Election, the IEBC says it is yet to establish the said coverage, and hence the network coverage of polling stations nationwide.

The CA, mandated with mapping network coverage, reported to the electoral agency that Kenya's 3G coverage was 98 per cent, a result of an analysis it based on the geo-coordinates of the polling stations submitted by the IEBC.

But the IEBC doubts the 98 per cent figure provided. In an exclusive interview with The Saturday Standard, IEBC commissioner Abdi Guliye yesterday said CA had conducted a “desktop” survey and was yet to conduct a physical mapping of the country.

“We are yet to get actual data in terms of physically verified network coverage from the CA… the desktop analysis may not translate to physical coverage on the ground,” Prof Guliye said, adding they were waiting on “promises that the network coverage would be improved.”

Guliye said CA has not issued any timelines on when they would conduct a physical survey yet time was running out for the commission to establish the status of network coverage.

“We have to do this in the next one or two months, of course, before the General Election… we will have time to engage with them on the modalities,” he said.

But Ezra Chiloba, the CA director-general said any physical verification must be done by the IEBC. “While we are able to advise IEBC on coverage, it is their duty to physically confirm the same since they know where the polling stations are located,” he said.

Section 44 of the Elections Act mandates the IEBC to “test, verify and deploy” technology to be used in the election 60 days before the election date, meaning the electoral body has 20 days to physically test its equipment.

Such exercise involves testing their result-transmission equipment on location to arrest issues that may arise on the D-day. “Subject to this section, there is established an integrated electronic electoral system that enables biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification and electronic transmission of results,” Section 44 of the Elections Act reads.

Chiloba said the report of the analysis the CA provided the IEBC, should suffice as geo-mapping did not warrant a physical survey on their part. “The same way they collected the geo-coordinates, is the same way they could assure themselves based on CA’s analysis… together with mobile network operators we were able to analyse the extent of coverage using the ArcGIS software, a standard that cuts across telecoms,” Chiloba said.

“As a commission, we do not control or deploy network coverage in the country,” Guliye said, and added that the absence of physical data on network coverage complicates the IEBC’s planning, even as it places them at risk of a third presidential election petition.

In 2017, the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election partly as a result of the result-transmission, a process the law requires is done electronically.

Back then, petitioners argued that there were inconsistencies in the GPS locations of various polling stations and the GPS locations of result transmission. The law requires that electronic results are transmitted from polling stations.

IEBC lawyers argued, as did Prof Guliye yesterday, that the varying GPS locations were caused by lack of 3G coverage in certain polling stations and hence IEBC officials had to seek areas with coverage to transmit images of the result forms electronically.

Raila Odinga’s legal team had dismissed the argument, saying the IEBC ought to have known the network coverage of all their polling stations two months before.

Getting the coordinates on time this time around, Guliye said, would allow IEBC deploy alternate mechanisms such as employing a satellite network or notifying the public in advance of instances that may require results to be transmitted electronically at the constituency tallying centre.

“However expensive it was, we made efforts in 2017 to engage GSM technology for purposes of network coverage,” Guliye said.

But the satellite option, he conceded, could be expensive, much so with the Sh4.5 billion budget deficit facing the commission.

Besides challenges in the network coverage and the strained budget, the IEBC commissioner said that the agency has to grapple with reduced powers in enforcing the electoral code of conduct. The High Court recently blocked the IEBC from questioning Murang’a Woman Rep Sabina Chege over vote-rigging claims she allegedly made, hence tying the IEBC’S hands in as far as summoning politicians.

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