ELECTORAL THEFT

Chebukati and IEBC team must exit to redeem image

It is difficult to understand how the remaining IEBC commissioners find any sleep at night

In Summary

• Chebukati had the audacity to shoot out a letter in response to Raila Odinga’s contention that it was possible to conduct an election at Sh2 billion

• He should know Chebukati should know that IEBC’s biggest issue is not what Raila thinks should be the cost of running a referendum, but the chaos, incompetence, possible fraud and shortsightedness of the commission he runs.

Chairman of IEBC Wafula Chebukati on April 20, 2018.
ON THE SPOT: Chairman of IEBC Wafula Chebukati on April 20, 2018.
Image: JACK OWUOR

For a country where elections are the perennial trigger of all our evil habits, I am often amazed that reform discussions mention so little about those who run the polls.

The bigger chunk of public debate largely revolves around the structure of the Executive, and such other power issues, but not the agency that should facilitate the smooth transition to this constitutional Canaan.

For people of my generation, the everlasting image of elections in this country will always be that of ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu’s fumbling at KICC in late 2007, as the country burned, and the subsequent swearing-in of Mwai Kibaki at night.

Never mind the fact that the same Kivuitu had been hailed as a hero just five years earlier, after delivering what was thought to be a flawless election. The 2002 election ushered in the period when Kenyans were said to be the most optimistic people on the planet.

President Kibaki squandered that multi-ethnic mandate, and restored the country to its ethnic factory settings by the time the subsequent election arrived in 2007.

It is from this mad and murderous position between 2007-08 that we have spent the last 12 years trying to move. Most reform processes, and pseudo-liberation projects in that period have been fashioned around trying to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence of 2007-08.

Yet surprisingly, where political bread-and butter-issues such as the structure of the Executive and devolution have taken their rightful place at the reform high table, what to do with the electoral commission remains a matter where most prefer to tiptoe around, or hope that providence will drop a solution from heaven.

Less than two years before what promises to be a divisive and hotly contested election, the IEBC accused of bungling the last two elections remains in place.

In a civilised society, the day after the Supreme Court nullified the 2017 presidential  election, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati and his team should have gone knocking at the prison tailors’ premises to have their measurements taken for their zebra uniforms.

Elections have a direct impact on national security, cohesion, stability and ethnic relations. To mismanage them after being given obscenely high budgets to run them should at the very least send everyone involved to Kamiti Prison.

The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee of 2019 shows that the IEBC not only mismanaged the election but also ran a chaotic ship where funds were misused, priorities misplaced and accountability thrown to the dogs.

This past week, Chebukati had the audacity to shoot out a letter in response to ODM leader Raila Odinga’s contention that it was possible to conduct an election at Sh2 billion, as opposed to the commission’s figure of Sh14 billion.

I am yet to see Chebukati’s reply to ODM’s rejoinder breaking down for him the areas of wastage from the last election, ranging from unused Kiems kits to data purchased but not used, a scary figure that paints the IEBC as a cash cow for some. Neither have I found evidence that Chebukati found time to explain the discrepancies in the PAC report.

It is difficult to understand how the remaining IEBC commissioners find any sleep at night. They run an institution not just tainted by accusation of electoral fraud, but one in which Chris Msando, their top IT expert and the man in whose safe hands the entire credibility of the process lay, was brutally murdered on the eve of the 2017 election.

And as if things couldn’t get any more awkward, Commissioner Roslyn Akombe fled the country ahead of the repeat presidential vote in October 2017. It would have been interesting to hear what Chebukati knew about the two grave matters, when he knew it and what he did with the information.

Even more intriguing would be on what grounds the commissioners and senior staff who remained in office possibly assumed they were immune from the shadowy characters who targeted Msando and Akombe.

Where I come from, there is a saying that loosely translates to “when the boat runs into heavy storms in crocodile-infested waters, everyone runs into a panic, but the ones who don’t are either crocodiles masquerading as fellow boat passengers, or have a special understanding with crocodiles”.

It is inconceivable that after the death of Msando, the departure of Akombe, the sacking of CEO Ezra Chiloba and the resignation of three commissioners, Chebukati and the remaining two electoral chiefs still feel the country owes them anything.

Well, the country owes them a stint in jail, but has chosen not to exercise that option — which is why the chairman should have led the remaining commissioners in resigning to allow the country to reconstitute a proper and functional electoral agency.

It is absurd to imagine that they are the only ones who do not see that they run a chaotic agency that has no head or tail. But one way of pricking their amnesia could be the way in which the commission a few months ago posted on its social media handles what it purported to be the official results of 2017, but in which the names of electoral zones, numbers, winners and losers were so mangled up in a way only the IEBC could achieve.

There is a Kenyan trait where, when there is a vacancy to lead a sensitive public agency, we invariably go for the weakest candidate because strong candidates shake up the equilibrium of our ethnic and regional prejudices.

Chebukati, and Isaak Hassan before him, fall perfectly within this description. On a good day, the two are as uninspiring as a roadside signpost, appearing almost helpless on the podium, when about to address such monumental issues of national security that you wonder if they understood the responsibility on their shoulders.

Unfortunately for them, and quite fortunately for the country, the season of weak candidates has run its course, and the country now seeks strong leadership in the one agency whose incompetence has caused more pain across the land than any other. Chebukati should know that IEBC’s biggest issue is not what Raila thinks should be the cost of running a referendum, but the chaos, incompetence, possible fraud and shortsightedness of the commission he runs.

It would be plausible to ask him to reform his commission, but a camel would much sooner go through the eye of a needle. The best Chebukati can do to redeem his image and that of the commission is to take a dignified walk out of it, or sit tight and wait to be swept by the coming wave.

He may not know it, but our five-year cycle of campaigns and non-stop politics is fuelled by the commission’s bungling of every election in the recent past.