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Those opposing postponement of polls are missing the point - Francis Atwoli

By Francis Atwoli | July 22nd 2021

Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

My much-publicised opinion article titled ‘Why it is democratic to postpone elections’, has attracted both positive and negative reactions.

The positive reactions have been two-fold. The first group comprises people who are pragmatic enough to appreciate the reality of Kenya’s tribal politics and the need to handle such before the 2022 elections, while the second appreciates the fact that IEBC is not prepared to conduct an election that can be said and seen to be free and fair. The latter cites the recently concluded polls in Kiambaa and Muguga, where all parties have disputed the results, as a classic example.

However, the negative reactions have been full of glittering generalisations. Without discussing the substance of the issues raised and debunking them conclusively, a majority of those who are opposed to the idea of postponing the 2022 elections for the sake of peace are ‘all over’ and confrontational in their submissions.

The Standard columnist Leonard Khafafa, who in an opinion article headlined, “This is why 2022 polls should not be postponed, Mr Atwoli”, published by The Standard on June 21, 2021, evidently struggled to argue out four reasons why elections must be conducted come rain or sunshine.  

In summary, and aside from him painting me as a messenger, the author talks about the poor performance of the Jubilee government and the growing influence of the UDA party as major reasons as to why postponing an election might be dangerous.

In defence of his former assertion, he cites the example of South Africa where he says unprecedented riots have broken out due to the huge inequality gap between the rich and the poor, and concludes by saying the same situation may obtain in Kenya if elections are postponed.

COTU Secretary-General Francis Atwoli. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Lastly, Mr Khafafa argues in defence of his latter assertion that the president has frustrated members of his tribe, more than any other tribe, and therefore any attempt at pushing forward the elections will be met with a lot of hostility from this group.

First, I would like to dispel the notion that I am a messenger. Unlike many leaders, I speak my mind and I can confidently say that Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), where I serve as the secretary-general, is an independent entity that solemnly represents the rights and welfare of workers.

Therefore, when Cotu calls for the postponement of elections, it is out of the reality that the outcome of such elections would have a negative effect on the welfare of Kenyan workers.

Second, it is my considered view that comparing the situation in Kenya and trying to extrapolate it to reflect what is happening in South Africa, in the name of inequality, is being intellectually dishonest.

If, indeed, we are to compare the two, then my comparison would border more on the Judiciary not taking into account the consequences of their choices rather than on inequality.

If Kenyans were as angry and frustrated as South Africans, they would have taken to the streets when the High Court stopped the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). But with that said, the consequences of the decision by the High Court are becoming evident day by day.

First is the reality that some constituencies are going to be phased out and, second, that we are yet to deal with inequality at the political level. The 2022 presidential election will once again be a cut-throat competition and the loser, with over 45 per cent of the votes, is unlikely to accept the results. This will be a recipe for political instability.

COTU Secretary-General Francis Atwoli. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Third, to say that the economy is performing poorly thus elections can’t be postponed is intellectual laziness. This is because many things that have happened during President Uhuru Kenyatta's second term are beyond his control. The Covid-19 pandemic has destroyed lives and livelihoods the world over.

Currently, the consumer price index (CPI) is increasing globally due to the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the economy and the instability of oil prices. Cotu surveyed the same and established that our CPI is doing much better than that of countries in West Africa.

And considering Kenya is driven by the agricultural and hospitality sectors, the effects of Covid-19 have been extremely bad on the workers and the economy. For instance, our flowers and tea have not been trading fairly in the international market while many Kenyans have lost their jobs in the hospitality industry considering little travel has been taking place due to the pandemic. If anything, we should be thankful to the president for ensuring that we don’t have a total closure of the economy.

Finally, in 2007 we anticipated the violence and advised the then political parties and leaders to come together. In 2017, all the challenges that came after the elections had been predicted; evidently because IEBC was not prepared.

In fact, the BBI is a brainchild of Cotu considering I called for these changes during our Labour Day celebrations in 2016. And now, as an elder, I am warning Kenyans against going to an election without dealing with the issues as highlighted herein.

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