Boundaries review political minefield

[Photo: Courtesy]
In my first column of the year, I highlighted the boundaries review as one the key issues that will shape our political discourse in the years before 2022. A meeting earlier this week between the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee at Parliament has signalled the start of the process. If the previous boundaries review process and the political drama of the 2017 electoral cycle are anything to go by, then we can expect that this will be a minefield for politicians, parties and even the IEBC. In my view, this process will lay bare the truth in the words of Tip O’Neill, form Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, that “all politics is local.”

Let’s consider how the process unfolded the last time. In 2009, the Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission (IIBRC), led by Andrew Ligale, was appointed to review Kenya’s electoral boundaries. After a process that involved dramatic and often violent public hearings, the commission recommended distribution of 80 new constituencies to former provinces, as follows: 27 to Rift Valley (76), 10 to Nyanza (42), nine to Western (33), nine to Nairobi (17), eight to Eastern (44), seven to North-Eastern (18), five to Coast (26) and five to Central (34).

This distribution, coupled with the so-called ‘protection’ of the already existing small constituencies which had been created as ‘safe constituencies’ for Moi’s cronies, caused uproar. Politicians allied to the PNU side of the Grand Coalition government led by President Uhuru Kenyatta (then Deputy Prime Minister) and Kalonzo Musyoka (then Vice-President) opposed the proposals by the Ligale-led commission arguing that it favoured the ODM wing whose luminaries then included Raila Odinga, William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi. Some MPs, obviously happy with the distribution, threatened to frustrate House business if the government didn’t publish the new list while others went to court to contest what they saw as an unfair process that disenfranchised voters. The courts faulted the Ligale commission for failing to demarcate the borders clearly and to provide basic information such as number of voters in each constituency. Farah Maalim, then Deputy Speaker, accused Judiciary of overstepping its mandate and engaging in political activism. The Ligale commission was itself divided as some of the commissioners accused their chairman of making decisions unilaterally. Little wonder, that the commission’s term expired before it had published its report. The work was taken over by the new IEBC led by Isaak Hassan, which stuck to the list as prepared by the commission which was subsequently approved in June 2011 despite opposition.

The foregoing demonstrates how complex and politically explosive a boundaries review process can be.

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For the IEBC, this will be a new battle field as the strong positions held in the 2010 review cycle about some regions being favoured over others remain and are perhaps even more entrenched now. Hence, the idea of ‘protecting’ small constituencies will be difficult to sustain as others will demand to be fairly represented in Parliament. NASA’s Musalia Mudavadi has already accused IEBC of favouring Jubilee in the process even before it has started. How the IEBC handles this will determine whether they will be around to run the 2022 election.

But this will also be tricky ground for political leaders and their parties/alliances. As far as boundaries go, there is no such thing as a party or national position; there is only local and individual interests. As people fight for fair representation, party leaders will find it difficult to balance the interests, especially as regional support bases take differing positions. For instance, whatever is left of NASA will be dealt a fatal blow as Kalonzo, who already feels disrespected within the NASA coalition, seeks to use the boundaries review as his redemption. Ruto’s challenge will be how to contain interests from the Rift to avoid antagonising his external support base. Next week, I will consider the forthcoming census and the complexities it will introduce to boundaries review dynamic.

- The writer is a PhD Candidate in African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. [email protected]

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