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September 23, 2018

Tall tale of Kenya’s poll bodies: Are they cursed or just compromised?

ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu calms down ODM supporters and politicians at the KICC, Nairobi, in December 2007 /FILE
ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu calms down ODM supporters and politicians at the KICC, Nairobi, in December 2007 /FILE

Working as a commissioner with the electoral agency has become one of Kenya’s most difficult assignments. It has ruined the careers of high-flying professionals.

The first high-profile victim of Kenya’s high-octane politics was the late ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu.

Kivuitu’s lowest career moment came in 2007 when he was on the spot over the chaotic polls that would lead to the deaths of 1,000 Kenyans after violence broke out following the bungled polls.

Read: IEBC is cursed, Chebukati must also resign - Orengo

The polls ended Kivuitui’s illustrious 16 years at the helm of one of the hardest and taxing jobs. The opposition, then led by ODM leader Raila Odinga, accused Kivuitu of an outright bias and interfering with the presidential results of one of the hotly contested elections in Kenya’s history.

Kivuiti and his team of 21 commissioners were sent packing and the ECK disbanded by Parliament through a constitutional change in 2008. Kivuitu later died in 2013 of throat cancer

Then came Issack Hassan, who took over, first as the chairman of the defunct Interim Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and later as the IEBC

Watch: [VIDEO] Three IEBC commissioners resign, say Chebukati a bad leader

Trouble for Hasasan and his team of eight commissioners started after the disputed 2013 polls, whose outcome Raila contested in the Supreme Court. After the court upheld the results, Raila and his then-Cord ran a campaign questioning the credibility of the IEBC.

They accused Hassan of rigging the polls in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta. The anti-IEBC campaign was worsened by corruption allegations and procurement scandals that hang over the commission’s head like the sword of Damocles.

Six months after the 2013 polls, the IEBC suspended its then-CEO James Oswago, his deputy Wilson Shollei, Finance and Procurement director Edward Karisa and procurement manager Willy Kamanga. The four were kicked out for the multibillion-shilling tender irregularities in the procurement of electronic voter identification kits.

In a twist of fate, a court battle in the United Kingdom also exposed how influential IEBC officials pocketed bribes to give lucrative tenders to a UK printing firm.

The graft revelations rejuvenated Cord’s determination to eject Hassan and his team. In May 2016, Raila called for countrywide anti-IEBC demos to eject Hassan and his team from office. The street protests turned bloody and several people were killed as police opened fire on protesters.

After months of push and pull, Uhuru agreed to a bipartisan approach to reform the IEBC that eventually sealed the fate of the Hassan team.

Read also: Ex IEBC commissioners supported Chiloba's compulsory leave - Chibukati

However, their premature exit was estimated to cost the taxpayer about Sh1.8 billion — one commissioner paid about Sh200 million as part of their sendoff package.

The commissioners were Lilian Mahiri-Zaja (vice-chairperson), Albert Bwire, Kule Godana, Yusuf Nzibo, Abdulahi Sharawe, Thomas Letangule, Muthoni Wangai and Mohamed Alawi.

After a protracted recruitment process, Wafula Chebukati and a lean team of six commissioners were sworn in on January 20 last year — about seven months to the bitterly fought August election.

At the time, key election materials, including the KIEMS kit, had not been purchased and the IEBC had its key processes challenged in court.

The NASA brigade was also making allegations of an intricate plot by Jubilee and a section of IEBC staff to rig the election.

Chebukati’s baptism of fire came after the Supreme Court, in a damning indictment, nullified Uhuru’s election and ordered fresh polls in 30 days. Stung by the decision, Chebukati swung a 12-point memo to his CEO Ezra Chiloba, asking tough questions regarding flaws that characterised the August 8 polls.

The memo put Chebukati at odds with Jubilee as NASA pushed for the resignation of at least 12 staffers, including Chiloba.

Four of the six commissioners ganged up against Chebukati and just a week to the October 26 repeat presidential poll, commissioner Roselyne Akombe fled the country and resigned.

Read: MPs summon Rotich over procurement of poll gadgets flaws

She said her life was in danger, the IEBC had lost its independence and was unable to deliver a credible presidential rerun. On the same day, Chebukati nearly threw in the towel and vowed he would only conduct the election if Raila and Uhuru agreed to talk and cool the political heat.

After a brief lull after the polls, the IEBC came back into the spotlight with the suspension of Chiloba last week.

In a clear signal of deeply entrenched divisions, three commissioners who opposed Chiloba’s suspension resigned. These are Margret Mwachanya, Paul Kurgat and Nkatha Maina.


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