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August 19, 2018

Are Kenya's electoral agencies cursed? A look at events since the ECK

A file photo of the late Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu.
A file photo of the late Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Samuel Kivuitu.

Kenya has held elections consistently since 1920, a process marred by challenges in equal measure.

These challenges have left leaders and citizens wounded so it is no wonder that events are still unfolding at the IEBC following last year's presidential elections.

Efforts to sanitise the system have seen the country amend election laws and make major changes at the organisation charged with managing the electoral process.

One can't help but wonder whether the elections manager is cursed as its officials are often plagued with allegations of misdeeds.

Several have left their officers unceremoniously, from as far back as when the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) was in charge.

ECK DISBANDED IN 2008

The 10th Parliament did away with the ECK in 2008 after a controversial 2007 presidential election that resulted in weeks of violence.

Samuel Kivuitu, who was the ECK's last Chairman, moved to court in November that year to challenge the decision for its disbandment.

Kivuitu’s team claimed the disbanding was unconstitutional as a tribunal should have been set up to investigate the wrongdoing in the controversial 2007 presidential election.

Weeks of violence followed the disputed the election that pitted Raila Odinga against Mwai Kibaki, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,300 people and the displacement of more than 600,000.

Kivuitu had earned a good reputation internationally for the successful conduct of the 2002 elections and the 2005 referendum on the Constitution.

The Chairman had served at the commission since 1992, when the late Chairman Zacheaus Chesoni prevailed upon him to accept the appointment. 

During an interview with Caroline Mutoko on Kiss 100, Kivuitu said with a lot of conviction that tribalism was the primary inspiration for the contest between Raila and Kibaki.

“We know the two parallels involved in this election but we can’t say [anything]," he said and defend himself by saying violence was inevitable regardless of who the winner would be.

Kivuitu was indicted heavily in the court of public opinion but he hang on to his job.

“Never! I cannot resign [because] I will be seen as a coward, which I’m not," he told reporters.

“I was the server, not the cook - if at all there was any cooking. If I’m given orders to serve you an eagle and you expected a chicken, then I’m not party to the confusion. I only serve what I am offered - the rest are just stories."

Habel Nyamu, Abuya Abuya, Justice (rtd) William Mbaya, Kihara Mutu and ambassador Jack Tumwa were among the 10 commissioners of the ECK. 

Others were Brigadier (rtd) Reuben Musonye, Philip Gachoka, Samuel Muya, Racheal Mzera and Stephenson Mageto.

Kivuitu and his team left Anniversary Towers in 2009, with a send-off package of Sh68 million that was approved by the Cabinet. 

The commissioners were paid between Sh2 million and Sh5 million depending on years worked while Kivuitu got at least Sh7 million in termination dues.

The former chairman earned a gross salary of Sh513,000 while commissioners hired in the run-up to the 2007 elections got Sh325,000.

Kivuitu, who died of cancer in 2013, was termed unbowed, unmoved and unrepentant - he almost managed to convince many people that he was more of a victim than a culprit in the 2007 election fiasco.

Read: Curtain falls on unrepentant Kivuitu

After the ECK came the IIEC which was set up on May 7, 2009. The commissioners were sworn in on May 11 that year with Issack Hassan as the Chairman.

Commissioners included Simiyu Wasike, Winnie Guchu, Yusuf Nzibo, Davis Chirchir, Douglas Mwashigadi, Hamara Ibrahim Adan, Ken Nyaundi and Tiyah Galgalo.

Hassan led the IIEC's transition into the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and with it more complaints about poorly managed elections.

HASSAN AND TEAM VIOLENTLY REJECTED

Hassan was Chairperson of the commission from November 2011 to October 6, 2016.

But he and his seven commissioners were removed from office by the then Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), led by opposition leader Raila Odinga, following a violent mass action campaign.

Albert Bwire, Kule Godana, Yusuf Nzibo, Abdullahi Sharawe, Thomas Letangule, Muthoni Wangai, Mohamed Alawi and Ezra Chiloba served alongside Hassan.

Raila called the protests against the team saying they were biased and incapable of holding fair and credible elections in 2017. 

He accused them of rigging the 2013 polls in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Hassan's team members agreed to step aside after they were promised diplomatic jobs and a sendoff package totalling Sh330 million.

Read: Time up: Issack Hassan hands over to new IEBC boss Chebukati

Hassan and former IEBC CEO James Oswago are still answering questions about expenses during their tenures. They have also been grilled about the Chickengate scandal, a case that has resumed.

The accused are facing charges of receiving Sh50 million as bribe from UK firm, Smith & Ouzman, on behalf of the defunct IIEC to facilitate the award of tenders.

More on this: 'Chicken' scandal no excuse to 'vilify, ridicule' IEBC, Issack Hassan tells media

Related: Chiloba to blame for Sh250 million spending during elections - Oswago

WHAT DOES CHEBUKATI'S FUTURE HOLD?

After Hassan came Chairman Wafula Chebukati, who was largely seen as the man for the change.

Chiloba maintained his Secretary/CEO position while Consolata Nkatha served as Vice Chairperson.

The commissioners included Roselyn Akombe, Abdi Guliye, Margaret Mwachanya, Boya Molu and Paul Kurgat.

Much like their predecessors, these officials faced allegations of colluding with the government of the day to rig elections and Raila put up another spirited fight for their removal.

Chebukati has stayed put but since October last year, Akombe, Nkatha, Mwachanya and Kurgat have resigned, leaving him in more trouble than he may have anticipated.

Akombe said the commission was not equipped to run a free and fair election while the others said termed Chebukati a poor leader who suspended Chiloba in a manner that raised questions.

Raila had wanted Chiloba out before last year's elections.

The Secretary/CEO has been questioned on matters including procurement expenditure, following a report by Auditor General Edward Ouko.

The electoral commission was put on the spot over claims of illegally varying contract content to three times the quoted amount leading to loss of millions of taxpayers’ money.

Ouko said the IEBC illegally altered and varied the contract amount from Sh31.7 million quoted by the same vendor in 2012 to an inflated price of Sh93.3 million per year.

Following these revelations by the auditor, the Chairman resorted to sending Chiloba on a three-month compulsory leave that has left the commission divided.

Chebukati and the two remaining commissioners can legally make operational decisions, the resignations are a blow to the legitimacy of the commission.

The court recently ruled that amendments made to electoral laws last year were unconstitutional.

One such amendment had reduced the quorum from five commissioners to three meaning that now Chebukati aand the two remaining Commissioners cannot make any decision. 

Chebukati is certainly in trouble but he has been adamant in the past and has declared that he is keen on proper polls and that he is not in office to please anyone.

Only time will tell whether Kenya will have a fresh team before the 2022 generation election, for which succession discussions are already ongoing.

The commissioners are appointed by the President of Kenya and confirmed by Parliament. Each member serves a six-year term. By law, no commissioner can be a member of a political party and at least four votes are required for any official commission action.

More on this: Resignations and mistrust leave Chebukati in deeper IEBC crisis

Also read: IEBC inflated kit maintenance tender threefold, auditor report

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