Changes for IEBC are about next elections not our next generation

President William Ruto receives an exit report from the outgoing IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati during a consultative meeting at State House, Nairobi. [PCS]

Here we were, thinking the 2022 election was over, and we would get back to our daily hustles.

But no, there are unanswered questions on the Holy Grail we call the presidency. On one side, Raila Odinga, adjudged the losing candidate, tells us the leadership of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has a potential case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on account of its apparent “blunder and plunder” of the presidential vote count. 

On the other William Ruto, adjudged the winning candidate, reveals a nefarious plot involving the kidnapping and murder of the IEBC leadership. Both guys promise to reveal more in the fullness of time.

Forget House of Cards or Designated Survivor, we are in Game of Thrones territory with a neat pinch of Blacklist style imponderables and inconceivables.  The only surprise is that our peerless creatives haven’t graduated from telenovela-style local productions to a Netflix series on the Politricks that is Kenya. It would be a best-viewer not just here, but everywhere. Indeed, if Kenya’s media creatively woke up, this would be the true big-ticket to market dominance.

Let’s indulge this thought. The “master student” versus the “student master”.  Not quite Jesus versus Peter, or Cain and Abel, but a different contest that speaks to the populism of “hustlers versus dynasties” in a world where everybody wants to be a dynasty, and nobody enjoys hustling. As our local telenovelas keep telling us, we all want to be better than the other.  It’s only human.

An enterprising enterprise

Now we may jump back to reality. If our political leadership offers fantastically contrasting views on the 2022 presidential elections, we are not in LA Law territory — we are watching Vioja Mahakamani. This is the space that our politicos are creating to brush aside our Supreme Court’s pejorative “hot air” and “wild goose chase” assertions.

Sorry, back to reality. Here’s where we are today. There are two things that animate Kenyans. Education and elections. The first gets us ahead; the second thinks it gets us further. The education agenda is an enterprising enterprise. The election agenda is simple: winning by all means, fair or unfair.  The similarity between the two is they are infected and infested by private, not public, interests.

Let’s look at elections. We may begin with President Ruto’s meeting with Chapter 15 independent commissions and offices this week. Activists will claim that he was impinging on their independence but the larger point we miss is he was receiving reports, as the Constitution allows, from the fourth arm of government we created in our constitution to build a new Kenyan culture of values and virtues. That’s their collective mission statement, their unique raison d’etre.

Indeed, the nine issues that the “handshake” between former President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila forwarded as the Building Bridges Initiative effectively spoke to performance deficiencies across this fourth arm of government. In a sense, meeting the president – outside of control proclivities- could be seen as a different way to get these institutions back to work for Kenyans. Lest we forget, these institutions must report to Parliament and the president annually, with analyses and advisories on what’s working, or not, in Kenya.  That’s our constitutional beauty.

Technocratic explanations

Because it looked like every institution was justifying their work and then asking for more cash, it would seem that a really quick and smart administration would be thinking about specific funds for each of these bodies, as it deletes the 80-plus funds that are our 60-year legacy of fiscal mistrust.

Indeed, in the correct system of budgeting that our constitution demands, the first allocation of funds must be horizontal across our four arms, then vertical between national and counties, and finally horizontal again across and between our counties. It’s not about State House goodies.

One of these Chapter 15 (or fourth arm) institutions is the IEBC. It has offered us an evaluation of what happened in August 2022.  These were technocratic explanations.  It reportedly offered an exit report full of political explanations and called for a commission of inquiry on what happened at Bomas.  One presumes that this latter report is now available to Parliament – for action - in the same way that it was handed over to the president – for information.  Once in Parliament, it is assumed this exit report, probably available to foreign donors, is also available to Kenyans.

In other words, let’s understand the IEBC view on the shenanigans that pervaded a 2022 election that was marked off in the global space as “well done”.  For local understanding, these shenanigans might walk us through the voter experience.  Because the whole purpose of the election is voters.  In a voter and citizen-centric lens, the votes are a result, not a cause of the voter-centric experience. Since we only have the “happy-clappy” self-evaluation report rather than the exit report, is there anything we might learn? Let’s review a couple of its highlights as we watch 2027 already in play.

To begin, the evaluation does not speak to the future digital election preferred by one side, or the analogue one that the other side demands. This is escapist and survivalist. Our election design is such that its manual part (pre-numbered ballot papers and registered agents) is still a place to be rigged before we get to the electronic part (tallying and web portals). The tragedy in the Supreme Court’s rhetorical thinking was its inability to contemplate this possibility in a really close election.

This is why the most interesting part of the self-congratulatory IEBC’s evaluation is a sub-section called Election Logistics.  Here’s a sample of what they said: “There was a mix-up in Form 34As in ballot paper packaging. “Packaging and distribution of materials were characterised by piecemeal distribution…at very odd hours. There were instances of mixed polling station labelling. The binding of ballot papers and counterfoils was loose making them get off the counterfoil readily, hence increasing the likelihood of losing the counterfoils. On the distribution of materials…some…were either missing or inadequate”. Clearly, the rubber struggled to meet the road. This is not necessarily a comment on the final result, but it is on IEBC’s general competence.

Wild statements

The report also speaks to the lack of funds for everything from voter education to a mish-mash of systems difficulties, from its highly-vaunted KIEMS to the non-integrated parts from biometric voter registration to candidate registration that was supposed to be part of KIEMS. There is a case for an independent inquiry into the existence of these systems.

Further, there is an assertion that the issues identified by the KPMG voter register and systems audit were addressed before time. The claim that 86 per cent of eligible voters were registered fails to capture our adult population’s reality even before we get to the 99 per cent idea that we voted digitally.  There are no independent thoughts on how and why turnout dropped from 78 per cent in 2017 to 65 per cent in 2022 when this was supposed to be a competitive transition election.

You will find an amusing “cost driver” suggestion that Sh3 billion of Sh5 billion of its Sh40 billion budget remained unspent because “people did not register”. To be fair, though, there is a solemn acknowledgment that a couple of officials lost their lives, though it might be a stretch to say they died “in the name of IEBC”.  Not to be harsh, but is an IEBC job riskier than being a police officer?

If we are to take our leaders’ wild statements at face value and not endless distractions, are we saying that IEBC represents Kenya’s fundamental economic risk? Must the constitutionalism that defines our elections be substituted by the patrimonialism that is its reward?  If this is the case, why not create a rotational order of leadership that save us money?

Alternatively, why don’t we rethink IEBC from a citizen-centric lens? Because, in the roundabout way that this entire discussion is placed, the 2027 debate is already being defined by the new Stalinist rule that you win the election ab initio (from the beginning), not when the votes are tallied or streamed. What Parliament is now amending for the umpteenth time, is all about positioning for 2027.  Not electoral reform.  It’s about the next election, not our next generation.

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