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Printing ballot papers abroad won't make polls free and fair

Security officers record batch numbers of pellets containing ballot papers at the JKIA. [Denish Ochieng' Standard]

Outsourcing the printing of ballot papers wastes money because since the 1992 multiparty elections, elections have always been ‘stolen’ in Kenya. So return your sword to its sheath and consider this.

Over 40 countries in Africa outsource money printing and coinage from the UK, France and Germany. Generally, African countries depend on imported goods and services from the West. It is a 21st-century form of state slavery stalling industrialisation in African states - it entrenches total dependency on the global north for production.

Although industrialisation is a paradigm shift packaged with prosperity, job creation, and better income, it is a moving target to Africa states.

In 2017 President Uhuru Kenyatta promised that his government would start an industrial revolution. He was to create 1.3 million jobs annually by liaising with county governments to create one industry in every county.

Five years later, industrialisation is still a significant campaign promise - the two lead presidential aspirants, Raila Odinga and William Ruto have pinned industrialisation in their manifestos as a critical aspect. However, from experience, Kenya will continue to allocate exorbitant budgets for printing services.

For example, Kenya allocates huge budgets to outsourced ballot paper printing services. In 2017, Al Ghurair, a Dubai-based company, printed our ballot papers at the cost of Sh2.5 billion, excluding the charges of printing the repeat presidential election ballot papers.

IEBC chairperson Wafula Chebukati. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Fast-forward to 2022 Greek company Inform Lykos will take to the Hellenic Republic over Sh3.2 billion to print ballot papers. Naturally, this cost will go higher if there is a rerun. Although there is nothing wrong with doing business with other countries, it would be more beneficial if simple services like the printing of ballot papers are done locally. Do we need to have all ballot papers printed outside the country?

On February 6, 2022, a concerned Kenyan, Patrick Muinde, wrote an opinion in The Standard titled, 'Rethink policy of printing exam papers and ballots abroad'.

His article came when the Ministry of Education sent a delegation abroad to oversee the printing of national examinations. His line of thought was simple; it is ridiculous to see that after almost 60 years of independence and education, we cannot entrust our industries with printing services.

Last week, the electoral and boundaries commission welcomed the first batch of ballot papers. So, why? A lazy excuse is that we cannot entrust our own companies to print such documents - that they can necessitate rigging of elections.

Nevertheless, since I was old enough to know about elections, they have always been 'stolen'. Aren’t we used to predictable post-election creeds such as "there was no transparency, votes were rigged, bungled elections", and other short hot stories?

Such has been the culture even after printing the ballot papers from outside the country. It is the same script when it comes to national examinations. We still experience massive leakages even after printing the examinations from the 'safe' abroad.

IEBC CEO Marjan Hussein Marjan. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The ballot papers are now in the country. So, who knows what is happening with them? Does it make any difference? If they are heavily guarded, could the same guards oversee the printing of the same within the country?

Should democracy be this expensive? Should the country be ready to pay whatever cost to ensure a feeling of transparency abides? Most Kenyans will disagree and say that democracy is costly - but dependency on foreign goods and services is more expensive.

Finally, who says that these companies are safer or independent? In 2017, Raila, then of NASA, accused the Al Ghurair, the Dubai-based printer, of having some insider relations with Jubilee leaders and the Kenyatta family.

On the other hand, Jubilee accused Raila of having interests in a South African-based firm that raised questions on the award of a Sh2.5 billion tender to Al Ghurair. It becomes clear that complaints will always arise irrespective of who prints the ballot papers. Can the country save money and keep the complaints? It sounds weird, but think about it!

-Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer in the School of Music and Media at Kabarak University