IEBC plans to move polling stations to safer zones

IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati (right) and his vice chair Consolata Nkatha

The electoral commission is planning to move polling stations located in volatile zones to safer places.

This emerged yesterday as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and top security officials met yesterday to review preparations to secure the August polls in light of the recent insecurity incidents.

The IEBC commissioners and officials of the National Police Service met to review the poll agency's Security Operations Plan (SOP) following last week's terror attack in Lamu in which Principal Secretary Mariam El-Maawy was injured.

Reports indicated the meeting discussed how to address displacement of voters and other measures to ensure elections are not disrupted, particularly given State agencies have mapped out 30 counties as possible election hotspots.

Yesterday, IEBC Commissioner Roselyn Akombe explained the steps taken to ensure voters are not disenfranchised in conflict areas.

"On Baringo and Lamu where we have people displaced from their polling stations, our staff have held discussions with stakeholders (political parties, county commissioners, security agencies and local leaders) and agreed on specific places to have the polling stations that are safer," Dr. Akombe added.

Soft targets

She added: "Training for our staff has been moved to safer places, for instance you cannot congregate Pokots in one place near the boundary with Marakwets as they become soft targets. Average budget increase is about Sh2 million in each of these places."

Ms Akombe explained that the commission will face hurdles in parts of the country that have been hit by bandits or which have witnessed terror attacks.

"It is our concern and that is why we have come up with Security Operation Plan, in which the commission works closely with security agencies to map out areas that require extra security," she said.

Part of the strategy involves deployment of extra security and hiring helicopters to deliver election materials in some regions where it is unsafe to use roads.

Another measure will involve re-allocating additional resources and personnel to the mapped regions.

"We are working with county security chiefs to map out the regions that require extra attention. Obviously, areas like Lamu, Mandera, Baringo and West Pokot are in our plan and we will have to fly materials and officials there," she added.

And separately, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) will today hold a briefing on its progress in cracking down on hate speech.

NCIC chair Francis Kaparo said the commission was reaching out to political players, including President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who have pledged their support and commitment to peace.

Mr Kaparo said his team has also been boosted by a team of seven investigators seconded from the CID to deal with hate crimes, adding that already several suspects spreading hate message on social media have been arrested.

"I am happy to report too that the Director of Criminal Investigation has directed his officers to arrest suspects of hate crimes without necessarily waiting for instructions from the NCIC. I am also appealing to our leaders that they have duty to God and country to maintain peace during this election period," Kaparo said.

Besides areas with stiff competition for electoral seats, counties listed as hotspots include those that have experienced cases of terrorism, banditry and ethnic clashes/tensions across the country.

They include Lamu, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera and Tana River that have witnessed terror related activities, West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Baringo, Laikipia, Isiolo and Marsabit that have also reported incidents of banditry in the past.

Others in the list are Kwale, Kisii, Migori, Siaya, Bungoma, Kericho, Elgeyo Maraket, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, Bomet, Narok, Kiambu, Nairobi, Meru, Kirinyaga, Murang'a and Kisumu.

The agencies that mapped out the areas include National Police Service Commission (NPS), Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

The mapping out by the agencies was done in collaboration with the national conflict prevention and response strategy dubbed "Uwiano Platform for Peace", emanating from a report titled Fallacious Vote, that was compiled during the April-May party primaries.

According to the KNCHR chief executive officer Patricia Nyaundi, the drivers of the conflict could be resources, unresolved boundaries and the fact that these seats are highly contested where some think the results will be manipulated and are not ready to accept results.

A high interest in gubernatorial seats and member of county assembly seats is among the factors causing a rise in tensions especially in areas where political leaders are mobilising along ethnic or clan lines.

"That's why we hear actors push IEBC to conduct a free and fair election which for them can only be possible if they are declared winners," Ms Nyaundi said.

She added: "For this reason the commission has deployed monitors in the identified areas to monitor the rhetoric and also document incidents of violence and bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities such as IEBC and NPS."

Threaten peace

According to Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett, his agency has already made plans to cover all the affected areas to ensure Kenyans exercise their voting rights.

The IG has warned that police will not spare anyone involved in electoral malpractices and especially incidents that threaten peace before, during and after the elections.

"We have mobilised all needed logistics that will enable us provide a secure environment for the polls. We assure all they will vote," he said.

IEBC has expressed fear of delivering election materials to clash-prone regions, coming at a time when terror incidents have heightened in northern and coastal parties of the country.

The commission says it will incur extra expenses in delivering election material to the affected areas and also seek extra security personnel.