Chebukati's team starts process of boundary review

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati in Wajir West Constituency. [Phillip Orwa, Standard]

The electoral agency has begun formal preparations for the boundary review exercise, setting the stage for a divisive political process that could see some constituencies scrapped and others merged.

As a first step, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has written to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) seeking relevant data for the exercise expected to begin mid next year.  

The data IEBC wants relates to population at the sub-location level, which was missing in the 2019 census results released last month. The KNBS availed data only up to sub-county level, and promised to publish additional information early next year.

IEBC Chair Wafula Chebukati told The Standard that the electoral agency has made a formal request for this information, helpful in mapping out wards and drawing of new constituency boundaries.

Basic data requested

“The commission has formally requested KNBS to provide census data based on sub-locations, which is the enumeration unit. This is the basic data that the commission needs to model the electoral units in the country. Once the data is received in the requested format, the commission will communicate the next phase of the process,” Mr Chebukati told The Standard.  

KNBS Director General Zachary Mwangi said the agency was working with the electoral body to ensure the review exercise gets off the ground.

“We are working closely with IEBC to provide them with the data. As you recall, the data that was provided at the end of the census exercise was up to sub-county level. We are working on the additional data up to sub-location level within the three months’ timeline that we promised,” said Dr Mwangi.

Article 89 of the Constitution empowers IEBC to conduct a periodic review of the country’s electoral boundaries. The review will affect the 290 geographical constituencies in the National Assembly, and 1,450 county assembly wards across the country.

The battle for numbers saw politicians dispute the census results released last month, as 27 constituencies face the risk of being knocked off the electoral map for failing to meet the population threshold.

But to alter the number of constituencies presently pegged at 290 would require an amendment to the Constitution. Redrawing of Kenya’s electoral map ahead of 2022 will kick up a political storm.

Mt Kenya leaders are already complaining that the region was shortchanged during creation of 80 new constituencies in 2012. They argue that the number of constituencies in the region is not proportionate to their population. In 2012, Central and Coast, with five each, got the least number of new constituencies. Rift Valley got 27, Western (10), Nyanza (nine), Nairobi (nine), Eastern (eight) and North Eastern (seven).

The distribution of the 290 constituencies is as follows: Rift Valley (76), Eastern (44), Nyanza (42), Central (34), Western (33), Coast (26), North Eastern (18) and Nairobi (17).

Yesterday, Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang'ula said the dispute over census results needs to be addressed.

“From where I sit there are disputes growing from the census results. Some people, including me, think the figures are not accurate and do not represent the actual numbers on the ground,” Wetang'ula said.

“Census is the only official statistics available for the review, integrity concerns notwithstanding. It is in this process that political mischief start because if the figures are cooked, they end up being used to give due advantage to other areas,” he added.

Fears of manipulation

“This kind of manipulation are some of the things we need to address in the Building Bridges Initiative, because they are the source of conflict in our elections. Basically, we are in catch 22 situation, unless somebody goes to the court to stop IEBC from using the disputed figures, the commission has no other figure to use,” Wetang'ula said.

He explained also although his Ford Kenya party had not taken any decision to go to court, governors, including his area governor, have indicated they will challenge the figures. “If they go, they will get my support.”

In the last boundary review in 2009, constituencies that did not meet the population threshold were lucky to escape the chop after the Andrew Ligale-led Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission made a decision to protect them.

These were: Lamu East, Lamu West, Mvita, Mwatate, Wundanyi, Voi, Bura, Galole, Isiolo South, Kilome, Laisamis, North Horr, Saku, Mbeere North (formerly Siakago), Ndaragwa, Tetu, Mukurweini, Othaya and Kangema.

Others were Mathioya, Samburu East, Marakwet East, Keiyo North, Mogotio, Vihiga and Budalang’i.

With the census results released in November showing a rise in population, it means that the constituency population quota would go up, endangering more constituencies. The quota stood at 133,000 people for rural constituencies in 2013.

The law requires that the review exercise be completed a year before the general election, which means that the electoral body is rushing against time to expedite the process ahead of the 2022 polls.