This is the right time for Kenya to fix its broken electoral system

Security officers cordon center stage of the auditorium at the National Tallying centre, Bomas of Kenya. Aug 13, 2022. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The court ruling that the recommendation to audit the 2022 presidential election will not alter the decision of the Supreme Court that Kenya Kwanza won the presidency has thrown the implementation of the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) report into a spin. That is in case the audit casts doubt on the process that led to the Kenya Kwanza candidate being declared the winner.

The bigger question in the contested 2022 presidential election was the legitimacy of the office-bearer despite the Supreme Court ruling. The Kenya Kwanza government itself came out with guns blazing, promising to investigate the actions at Bomas during the tallying of presidential votes. But somehow the fire went off.

The NADCO picked the challenge up. It was resolved that in the interest of settling perennial post-election contestations, teams from the government and the opposition would audit the process to restore legitimacy of the election process and of whoever wins the presidential election.

Now with the court ruling, we are back to square one. How do we restore legitimacy, not only to the presidential office bearer the courts legally judge in favour of, but also to the electoral process itself so that whoever the process gives us, we build trust and offer unwavering support?

We need to take our country more seriously for the sake of future generations if we don’t care about ourselves. The generation of youngsters that voted in 2007 for the first time had a dreadful experience of elections and democracy. Similarly, the generations that voted in 2013, 2017 and 2022 for the first time may not have very good memories of why voting in a democracy is important in nation-building. We are sowing seeds of anarchy in the future.

Those who have specialised in demonising, scapegoating and sheltering under the name of ODM leader Raila Odinga will be in for a rude shock because the next general elections might be messier with even less legitimacy on whoever is declared the winner. Why? We have always swept electoral dirt under the carpet and pretended all is well. The likelihood of Raila being on the ballot in the next general elections is extremely low with or without winning the AU seat.

Some government leaders see Kenya through the lens of how to keep the ODM leader at bay even on legislative matters. It's time such leaders began to think about an inclusive electoral process that generates a fair, transparent and credible outcome. Obsession with personalities obscures visionary politics and reduces the whole process to a spectacle. 

With auditing of the 2022 presidential election outcome being of no consequence, whichever way the report would have read, we, the people, need to take advantage of the current relatively peaceful environment to streamline the electoral process. The strengthening of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) should not be about current leaders.

We should apply the principle of the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ by John Rawls to get it right this time. On very serious matters like the electoral process, the systems that govern it should be so tight that political aspirants will not desire to tamper with it. We can only achieve this if we reform IEBC with no particular candidate in mind. Informed by experience, the only consideration should be the health, peace and justice of the nation.

It will be utter shame, with the benefit of learning critical lessons from four successful contested election outcomes, if we go to another election without reviewing where we have always gotten it wrong so that we correct those wrongs and start running a legally sound and morally legitimate election. There is no point in sweeping obvious electoral blunders under the carpet.

Indeed, laws are made during a crisis. Since 2007 we have had our share of crises. We have had loss of lives, destruction of property and generated over time deep-seated inter-ethnic hatred. Let us grab the window of peace we are in to re-engineer our electoral process. We should leave behind an intact country for the next generation.

Dr Mokua is the Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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