MSAMBWENI BY-ELECTION

Protecting the ballot lays bare culture of electoral mistrust

Aspirants and their supporters are forced to hire goons and expensive machinery to set up their own security systems

In Summary

• As a result of perennial mistrust in the system, Kenyans are resorting to spending millions of shillings to protect the ballot. 

• The IEBC is also incurring huge costs because of the suspicion and the mistrust.

Independent candidate Feisal Bader casts his vote at Gazi in Msambweni on Tuesday December 15.
MSAMBWENI VOTE: Independent candidate Feisal Bader casts his vote at Gazi in Msambweni on Tuesday December 15.
Image: SHABAN OMAR

This week, HAKI Africa was in Msambweni to observe the by-election triggered by the death of MP Suleiman Dori.

Until his death, Dori was known for his astuteness and defence of his constituents politically, socially and economically. In his short but effective political career, he rose to be the chairman of the Coast Parliamentary Group and was a stalwart of ODM party.

No doubt, the by-election to fill his shoes was going to be tough and it was indeed a bruising battle pitting mainly ODM candidateOmar Boga against Faisal Badar, an Independent. The Kieleweke group backed Boga, while Tangatanga backed Faisal.

Even before polling day, there were signs indicating possible violence on Election Day. There were reported cases of supporters clashing and politicians going head-to-head. Mombasa Governor and his Kwale counterpart Salim Mvurya had something to prove to each other.  

Mvita MP Abdulswamad and Mohamed Ali of Nyali, too, were on opposing sides.

Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa and her Lunga Lunga colleague Khatib Mwashetani were also battling it out against Mishi Mboko (Likoni) and Senator Mohamed Faki (Mombasa).  

It was a supremacy battle at the Coast.

Despite the coastal angle, there was also the issue of national politics pitting Kieleweke against Tangatanga.

ODM secretary general Edwin Sifuna and Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi engaged in wars of words during the campaigns. The battle was, however, between ODM leader Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto, set against the 2022 succession game plan.

In his own words during the campaign, Raila said the Msambweni by-election would be a determinant of how the BBI debate and referendum would go.

Now that his candidate has lost, it means the coming months are going to be tough as the country navigates through the BBI and the constitutional referendum debacle. 

Even as we ponder the results and what lies ahead, the campaign and polling in Msambweni proved to Kenyans that the culture of electoral mistrust and violence is still strong among our leaders and voters.

This culture is costing Kenyans huge sums of money in management of the elections.

As a result of perennial mistrust in the system, despite the various improvements made so far, Kenyans are spending millions to protect the ballot by hiring security and expensive equipment, including vehicles to ferry officials around. IEBC is also incurring huge costs because of the suspicion and the mistrust.

Besides the IEBC, aspirants and their supporters are forced to hire goons and expensive machinery to set up their own security systems to do what they call  protecting their vote.

In the long run, due to the mistrust between aspirants and the IEBC, hundreds of millions end up being wasted, amounts that could have been used to help the same people who are meant to benefit from the elections.

It is unfortunate that Kenya spends so much money in electioneering but has little to spend even to cover Covid-19 medical bills. This is because elections are not viewed as a process to serve the people but rather to gain wealth and leave the poor behind. 

If the case of Msambweni is anything to go by, we must immediately change our culture and attitude towards elections. The mistrust and suspicion is alarmingly high and costing the mwananchi unnecessarily. We must inculcate a new culture that sees politics as public service and not personal aggrandisement.

We can do this by lowering the pay and hefty packages for politicians and increase their obligations towards the electorate.

Political office should be a responsibility not a privilege. Kenyans must refuse to continue to be held at ransom by politicians. The time to change is now, otherwise come 2022, we will only have ourselves to blame.