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Restore citizens’ confidence in elections to avert doom

By Barrack Muluka | August 10th 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Next week, Thursday August 8, will be exactly two years since Kenyans went to the botched presidential election of 2017. As the poet Jenny Joseph would say, the sun has continued to burst the sky, regardless that Kenyans went to a dud presidential poll. The sea has lapped the great rocks and blackbirds filled the air. People still walk in the street and laugh.

You cannot stop time. Time and tide wait for no man, it has been said. Contrary to what another poet, WH Auden, has said, you cannot pack up the moon and dismantle the sun. Nor can you pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood. Nature flows on, doing the things she has always done. The songster Samba Omar Mapangala would tell you to chew the bones while your jaws are still strong. You will lament, someday, that you squandered the opportunity. Make hay while the sun shines.

Will Kenyans cry someday that they squandered reform moments? When the Supreme Court nullified the 2017 August presidential polls, it cited “numerous irregularities and illegalities.” The country’s faith in the Independent Electionsand Boundaries Commission was thoroughly shaken. Two years down the line, nothing has changed. Should you be talking to Kenyans at random, significant numbers will tell you, “I will never vote again.” Voting is a critical duty that every citizen should look forward to carrying out. Indeed, those who don’t vote still participate – by default – in helping the wrong fellow to ascend to power. Yet, citizens also get tired of unending electoral woes and wars. They get fatigued of futile electoral choreographies. They lose faith in exercises whose true outcome is difficult to tell, with violence as the only predictable imperative. You begin to appreciate the creeping cynicism.

Cynicism does not, however, resolve our problems. Accordingly, solid, tangible interventions are of the essence. Perhaps someone will say, “But we have the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). We say in Emanyulia that you cannot do the right thing the wrong way. The BBI has a congenital problem – a serious birth defect. Science has taught us that congenital problems are often lifelong afflictions. You can never correct them. This thing has always been masked in a mystery of a near conceited coinage. Some people have felt it was their private property. When they were asked to expand and institutionalise the ownership, they objected, with palpable snobbishness and arrogance. Accordingly, the thing must hinge in the goodwill and whims of two individuals. If whim should overpower goodwill, it will be the end of the game. Hopefully, whims will remain in the chains of goodwill.

Yet, other intractable challenges remain. The foremost is that some of the people behind BBI talk of a constitutional amendment referendum as one of the inevitable outcomes of the process. Such a referendum would invariably be presided over by IEBC. Is this the same IEBC whose performance got the country burning? How do we trust it to perform differently?

Its a monster

We have also heard, whenever some people have dropped their guard – or floated balloons – that the referendum will also be on how IEBC should be reformed. So how do you ask IEBC to conduct a referendum about itself? The world has recently seen a referendum eat up two British Prime Ministers. A third one, called Boris Johnson, will be eaten up around Christmas, or before. That same referendum will then eat up the British Conservative Party – and maybe eat up Britain itself! In 2005, a referendum almost ate up President Kibaki. Don’t joke with a referendum. It is a monster. It will eat you up, whoever you may be.

Remarkably, IEBC as presently constituted is unconstitutional. It does not meet the numerical threshold, nor is it responsive to gender balance as is constitutionally required. You cannot pretend to repair the Constitution by using an institution that is itself unconstitutional. This is mockery.

The country’s primary political focus today should be on giving itself an electoral authority that citizens can trust. If citizens’ confidence in the electoral system is not restored in good time, the country still sits in a bad place. In the coming days, therefore, there could be need for yet another teary handshake.

To restore confidence in the electoral process, IEBC is the first port of call. Kenyans must know the truth about the infamous servers that seem to have let them down. They must also know the whole truth about the mystery of politically correct candidates who each polled 54 per cent of the votes cast in their constituencies. 

Add to this the alleged algorithm stuff, the procurement systems for ballot papers, tabulation of votes, transmission of results, software defects, scanning of results forms, voter registers and a cocktail of so many other concerns. Throw in perceptions about the credibility of the people charged with the responsibility of running the elections, and you have your job cut out.

On Thursday next week, the third year will begin rolling. With it, the country may very well begin rolling towards a new wave of disaster. It is time to sober up for the greater good of the country. Those who have so far behaved as if they own a title deed for the whole country must for once begin listening to other voices. It is time to place the country and its people first.

- The writer is a strategic public communication advisor.  www.barrackmuluka.co.ke

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