Enough of this IEBC ping-pong, Kenya is crying to move on

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. [Edward Kiplimo/Standard]

From his conduct and mien in recent months, Independent Electoral ommission (IEBC) Chairman Wafula Chebukati could easily pass for a man of all seasons.

On Wednesday, he sprang up in the face of interesting times to announce at a post-election evaluation forum in Nairobi that he was happy with the conduct of last year’s elections.

The object of his glee was the revelation that out of the 14,523 candidates who contested polls last year, only 25 of the 300 succeeded in election petitions they filed in various courts.

Chebukati’s thrill at the review forum showed that even when the night looks darkest, there can be something to celebrate. But beneath the chairman’s confident exterior lies the frustrations of a man keeping his job for the sake of it. Let me explain. The embattled IEBC chief continues to define himself more by the way he represents hopelessness, real or imagined. In fact, IEBC is in a state of uncomfortable suspense because of a leadership that doesn’t inspire confidence.

My take is that no matter what Chebukati does or says, it will take a miracle to restore the commission’s credibility. A 1982 remake by R&B and gospel singer Deniece Williams “It’s gonna take a miracle” speaks to the situation. In Newtonian physics, the commission is on a free-fall Faced with teething procurement questions, an ugly tiff between Chebukati and suspended CEO Ezra Chiloba, not to mention the comedy of the resignation and return to office of three commissioners and the tragic conduct of last year’s polls, IEBC has to walk on eggshells to return to normalcy.

On Thursday, just hours after the chairman celebrated the reduction in successful petitions, two top IEBC staff were arrested while allegedly carting away 14 crucial files from the commission’s finance and procurement departments. Chebukati and Chiloba, who thrive in subjugating the smooth running of IEBC, quickly released telling statements.

Kenyans must say enough is enough. The bravado and game of musical chairs at the commission must end. The widening rifts offer a sneak peek into the interests that captured the commission before, during and after last year’s sham elections. Primacy of the rule of law can’t be at the bidding of a few people.

Yes, disbanding IEBC will spare Kenyans the shame and baggage of a disastrous commission, and allow a new team that will enjoy confidence of voters. IEBC is a creation of law and must be seen to abide by it. Chebukati can’t purport to be working – organising by-elections, making proposals to Parliament, addressing press conference and discussing plans for boundaries review – when his house is on fire. The man is struggling to regain control. That’s not how great managers conduct themselves.

I am talking about a chairman and a CEO who spar with themselves and imaginary opponents. They have failed and should call it quits. The mood of the nation isn’t with them and the rule of law isn’t the rule of might. By continuing to live a lie by not openly coming out on his fears and frustrations, Chebukati has spurned a chance to prove he means well for this country. He finds himself in a spot that may not afford him any further breathing space. Someone else will have to do the cleaning at IEBC.

There are three basic questions here: How will a vanquished Chebukati navigate his way out of these murky waters? Will Kenyans trust him to oversee another election? What do Kenyans stand to benefit from a commission that won’t do its work without drama? The challenges of 2017 should have offered an opportunity to turn a new page on the management of elections. Ugly wars won’t allow that. My fear is that challenges of achieving efficiency in polls will remain insurmountable. The servers will just never be opened.

The writer is an editor at The Standard.