Opposition to a transformed IEBC will be a big mistake

It is good that Musalia Mudavadi has again raised the credibility, competence and integrity of the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), pushing to have it reconstituted. The silence on the IEBC had been dangerously loud especially since the handshake of March 9.

But the IEBC needs way more than the re-constituting that happened at the end of 2016, months before the 2017 elections, with the stage for the August mess already set. Frankly if we do not have a new IEBC—with new transparency, accountability and integrity—and with new structures and personnel from the bottom-up, by mid-2019, then there will be no need to hold elections in 2022.

The only person with an interest in maintaining the status quo at the IEBC is William Ruto, who as incumbent over the last few years has had the opportunity and resources to build networks across most institutions in the country, including the IEBC.

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The IEBC is crucial, precisely because how it operates is the inevitable trigger for the open expression of our fragility as a nation. Our last three elections had come with heightened tensions and quasi-civil wars because of the conduct of elections. And each time we have lost lives in the hundreds and thousands.

Subvert interests

Yet we dither, allowing personal interests to subvert national interests, and taking us to the brink of collapse each time. Will we ever take the lives of ordinary Kenyans seriously enough to do the hard work needed so that the IEBC is not a spark?

Our history since multi-partyism in 1992 tells a story. The Kanu regime rigged the 1992 elections and frustrations started. They repeated the rigging in 1997 and the frustrations increased, with mass action almost starting after the results. In 2002, we got a reprieve, partly because the polls agency had been reconstituted in 1997 with political party appointees creating a balance.

But in 2007, President Kibaki decided to ditch the agreement for balance and unilaterally appointed the commissioners provoking even more anger. We know the painful and still unresolved consequences of those elections!

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I will not be surprised if Mr Ruto and his sycophants are at the forefront in opposing any changes that may benefit the public, as they have been with the idea of lifestyle audits, conservation of Mau Forest, and the prospect of a more inclusive Kenya via the handshake.

But any opposition to a new and transformed IEBC will be a huge mistake. Defenders of status quo often rely on the assumption of the elasticity of the patience of Kenyans, or the use of intimidation.

But the last few years should have clarified how frustrated and angry Kenyans are, so much so that more than half a million Kenyans risked death, injuries and jail to attend the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as People’s President in January. A significant group was not there because of Raila, but rather as an expression of their anger and frustration with the path Kenya was continuing on.

But here are a few ideas on what changes need to be made at the IEBC so that it maintains credibility and engenders our trust. First, there is a need for house sweeping of all staff that have served in more than one election. It is time to get new returning officers, new presiding officers, and new heads of departments in Nairobi. This is a huge undertaking that would be challenged in the courts, but the public interest to avoid civil war is paramount.

Publicly funded

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Second, all commission meetings, at commission and staff level, should be open to the public and should be televised. That way we can see who is pushing what tenders. For if an institution will fiddle with tenders, you can be sure it will fiddle with votes. As it happens, the IEBC is one of only a few election bodies that hold its commission meetings in secret. By opening up the meetings to public scrutiny, one hopes that people will behave and not be obstinate because they have received orders.

Third, the IEBC should provide access to all servers, and IT to parties and recognised observers with “read only” access. That way we can be sure that it is not sharing servers and roles with one of the parties as it did with TNA in 2013, and that NSIS is not involved and diverting numbers as it wishes.

Fourth, the IEBC should be exclusively publicly funded and prohibited from receiving donor funds as the donors acquire inordinate influence on the IEBC. Because of this investment, the donors do all they can to mask the incompetence and bias of the IEBC until it is too late and we are on the precipice. Foreign experts may be hired but they report to IEBC and to Kenyans only.

Fifth, we need to raise the bar on the people hired as Commissioners, CEO and Chairperson. Paper qualifications on matters medical or legal, for example, should not be enough. There needs to be proven experience and a life dedicated to integrity, independence and fairness.  Finally, the Commissioners and CEO should organise just one election, then leave.

- The writer is former KNCHR chair. [email protected]

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IEBCelectoral reformswafula chebukati