SECTIONS

Vote wisely and peaceful, then exercise patience

98 year -old Enock Mkamba casts his vote at Mahoo polling station in Taita Taveta County. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

First figure out what to vote for, then decide who you will vote in

We are almost there.  On Tuesday, we will all wake up early, get to our polling stations and line up to exercise our electoral rights through the vote we call the ballot.  Expect long lines in this freezing cold, and in some parts, wet weather. 

Voting is one of the last remaining queueing experiences Kenyans endure after we innovatively reduced most other experiences to those “pick a number and wait to be called” services at our public and private places of business.  Of course, the mathematicians among us will apply self-same queueing theory and wait till the afternoon to vote when the human traffic is less congested.

Yet, vote we must.  We’ve had enough of noisy political campaigns briefly interrupted by more thoughtful manifestos and presidential debates before reverting to default settings this past week. And, thank goodness, the polling season is over.  We were almost getting to the point where we were treating opinions from a sample of Kenyans as predictions from all voting Kenyans, and more laughably, actual votes cast.  I have always wondered about the honesty in our poll responses in a country where “unofficial” equals the truth and “official” means “siri kali” (deep secret).  We don’t like many questions; we just want the answers.

Which is probably why Kenya is a proper “4E” country.  We want a good economy not because we eat GDP, but because it is an important underpinning, if not the only one, of our lives, living, and mostly, our livelihoods.  In that sense, the economy has always been a “no-brainer” once we think and act beyond the second “E”; ethnicity.  More about this later.

Getting back to the need for answers rather than questions, this probably explains why the two things that are most likely to whip up Kenyan emotions and anger are elections and education.  Both are about the economic answers we seek.  That’s our “4E” Kenya.

I have digressed.  So, here we are, ready to vote.  We’ve had more than enough in column-inches about “whom” to vote in, but probably much less about “what” to vote for.  We have seen our election, especially at presidential level, described as an “ethnic census”.  We align with our potential leaders on the basis of identity, or individual personality, rather than issues, or ideas. It is as it is, as some might say.  What, then, is on my mind as I queue at dawn to cast my vote? Well, very simply, I’ll be thinking about the mugshot to which I will apply my tick to on IEBC Forms 25 to 30.  Hey, you ask, I thought it was all about Form 34A?

Not really.  We must understand IEBC is primarily a process institution.  Its work is all about a mega-logistical task – to process Kenyans with IDs into voters, voters into voting, voting into votes, votes into counts, counts into tallies, tallies into results, and results into announcements and then certificates.  IEBC is a world of forms running say, in 2017, from Form 1 all the way to Form 42.  Sounds like school, right?  

More seriously, Forms 25 to 30 are the actual ballot papers.  In 2017, under the Electoral Regulations, Form 25 was the Presidential ballot paper, 26 the MP ballot paper and 27 to 30 were for Women Rep, Senator, Governor and MCA respectively. You’ll see the number at the top right of your ballot paper, and IEBC this week offered samples of correctly marked ballots on its web site. Based on these samples, the one difference from the order above seems to be that the Presidential ballot is now Form 30, and the MCA is Form 25.  One assumes that this is properly the result of a change in the regulations, not a mix-up in the ballot papers.

Tick off your choices

Let’s stick with these forms a little.  So, you tick off your choices on Forms 25 to 30.  Then you go home to wait for the results.  The entire mainstream and social media by this time is tracking the “tallying to results” process.  You will hear lots of “the votes are still being counted” statements. Watch a movie instead.

Meanwhile, the ballots have been collated, packed, sealed etc (no form here – Form 31 is for a Referendum while Form 32 is for “manual” (i.e. non-biometric) voters) before moving to counting.  That’s the work of Form 33 which tallies the votes counted for each candidate vying for the various seats.  Every candidate has his/her own Form 33, so to speak.

It is these tallies that go into the “A” forms – 34A for the Presidency, 35A for MP, 36A for MCA, 37A for Governor, 38A for Senator and 39A for Woman Rep. This is the gist of our manual election – we vote by hand, and the votes are counted by hand.  So, where’s the high-tech Kenyan election we proclaim? Well, we are identified as voters by tech, and we use tech to transmit results (though this time it seems we’ve gone from data (“the servers”) to document (scanning); from digitalisation back to digitisation).  No worries here, since our process is such that the digital data is of little to no utility without hard copies.

Let’s square the circle on these forms.  For MPs and MCAs, the “B” forms announce results; but are interim collations for the others, which are announced through their respective “C” forms.  Going further, MP and MCA certificates are “C” forms; President, Governors, Senators and Women Reps get “D” forms.  Simply, the announcement of our next President is supported by Form 34C and formally certified in Form 34D.

Lest we forget, MPs and MCAs are announced at constituency level; governors, senators and women reps at county level and the president at the National Tallying Centre.

Results transmission bugbear

But let’s go back to those Form “A’s”.  As the courts have ruled, results are “final” (whatever that means) at the polling station level.  Without getting into detail, these are the forms that IEBC will make available to parties, candidates and media.  That’s the fun part.  Meanwhile, IEBC then has to do its own processing.

This is where our perpetual results transmission bugbear kicks in. Consider a scenario where electoral races are being called by mainstream, and more likely, social media while IEBC chaps are running around “looking for Internet” (at least the 2007 scenario where returning officers were “mteja” (out of contact) is behind us).

In our most recent by-elections, it was notable that social media was about ten times faster than mainstream media, and a hundred times quicker than IEBC, in tracking results at polling station level.

IEBC, of course, has offered us its assurances on results transmission, recent stress-testing challenges notwithstanding. We must hold them to their promise and word; that’s what we should expect after providing our Forms 25 to 30 inputs to their Forms 33 to 39 outputs.  One suspects that, regardless of choice, Kenyans do not want to hear anything about Form 40, also known as a Fresh Presidential Election. 

Which is why, to get back to the beginning, it might start with what we vote for before whom we vote in.  A presidency that balances economy, governance and security? Governors who balance the first two?  Legislators who get that their role means exactly that – representation, oversight, legislation and evaluation.  Broadly, a leadership that gets the issues of the day.

That’s the basis of my marking scheme walking into the polling booth.  But there is a further expectation of an IEBC that gets its role in this important national moment after I vote.  It might be a process institution, but there is electoral justice substance to its work that goes beyond electoral management form and forms.  

With justice, there is peace, which is not simply the absence of war.  Peace is the lever that drives us towards the twin goals of prosperity and progress.  For these reasons alone, let’s not just vote wisely, as we should, but vote peacefully, as we must.  And follow the rest of this moment with patience and equanimity. After all, Kenya will still be around not simply the week, month or year after next, but the day after Tuesday.