Wa­fula Che­bukati, the elec­tion ar­biter

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - Wa­fula Che­bukati Chair­man, In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion, Kenya

The new chair­man of Kenya’s elec­toral com­mis­sion has yet to win the con­fi­dence of all the coun­try’s main po­lit­i­cal play­ers for the IEBC ahead of Au­gust elec­tions

Ever y day, head­lines splash across t he front pages of Kenya’s news­pa­pers, scru­ti­n­is­ing the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion’s (IEBC) prepa­ra­tions for the 8 Au­gust gen­eral elec­tion. On the minds of many read­ers is the need to avoid a re­cur­rence of the vi­o­lence that ripped through Kenya nearly a decade ago. Voter reg­is­tra­tion in the buildup to the poll, and vote-tal­ly­ing on elec­tion day, are key is­sues at stake. Kenya’s main op­po­si­tion leader, Raila Odinga, is threat­en­ing mass protests if his pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion coali­tion per­ceives the elec­tion as rigged. Odinga’s Coali­tion for Re­form and Democ­racy held ral­lies last year about the bias of the IEBC. It was these demon­stra­tions that prompted Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta to ap­point a new chair­man, along with six new com­mis­sion­ers, in De­cem­ber 2016. The man in charge of run­ning the up­com­ing elec­tion is Wa­fula Che­bukati, the IEBC’S new chair­man, who was sworn into of­fice on 20 Jan­uary. If he is to suc­ceed, Che­bukati must per­form a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act, care­fully treat­ing all po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests fairly and en­sur­ing that voter reg­is­tra­tion goes smoothly. On elec­tion day, the vot­ing process, vote-tal­ly­ing and vote trans­mis­sion will be un­der close scru­tiny. Speak­ing in his of­fice in down­town Nairobi, Che­bukati told The Africa Re­port that he is try­ing to forge a new re­la­tion­ship with the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal par­ties as his com­mis­sion pre­pares for its first elec­tion un­der his stew­ard­ship: “There’s been an el­e­ment of mis­trust by some po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the pre­vi­ous com­mis­sions […]. There’s a lot of sus­pi­cion be­tween po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the IEBC. Our job is to en­sure that we work in­de­pen­dently,” Che­bukati says.


Keny­atta has moved swiftly to pre­vent the op­po­si­tion from blam­ing the IEBC as a means of re­ject­ing the out­come of Au­gust’s elec­tions. “The re­con­sti­tu­tion of this com­mis­sion was a bi­par­ti­san process that breathes new life into the elec­toral body while at the same time restor­ing con­fi­dence in its ca­pac­ity and com­pe­tence to de­liver on its con­sti­tu­tional and statu­tory man­dates,” Keny­atta said in a state­ment on 18 Jan­uary. But Odinga is not swayed by the re­struc­tur­ing of the IEBC. He said as re­cently as 15 Fe­bru­ary that the IEBC’S voter reg­is­tra­tion drive – which aims to add six mil­lion new vot­ers to the elec­toral reg­is­ter of 16 mil­lion peo­ple – is adding fraud- ulent names in a bid to help the gov­ern­ing Ju­bilee Al­liance Party to win. “The ex­ec­u­tive of­fice is try­ing to down­play it,” Odinga told re­porters. “It is a ma­jor, ma­jor mess.” Try­ing to draw a line un­der pre­vi­ous elec­toral com­mis­sions, Che­bukati has been busy meet­ing with po­lit­i­cal party rep­re­sen­ta­tives, jour­nal­ists and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to pre­pare for the vote. “We have an open-door pol­icy, so that if you have any­thing, any prob­lem, or you think there’s an is­sue, come to us and let’s en­gage,” he says. “Quite a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal party rep­re­sen­ta­tives have been [in my of­fice], and we have given them an­swers to what they think are prob­lems.” There is much at stake. An es­ti­mated 1,100 Kenyans were killed in post-elec­toral vi­o­lence in the af­ter­math of the De­cem­ber 2007 elec­tions. An­a­lysts worry that lessons learned in 2013, when all ac­tors were on their best be­hav­iour, are in dan­ger of be­ing for­got­ten.

Che­bukati in­her­ited a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion from his pre­de­ces­sor, Ahmed Is­sack Has­san. Dur­ing Kenya’s last elec­tion, in March 2013, Has­san’s ad­min­is­tra­tion came un­der fire for fail­ing to prop­erly test bio­met­ric voter iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy be­fore the polls were held. On the day of the vote, the bio­met­ric iden­ti­fiers failed, forc­ing elec­toral of­fi­cials to switch to man­ual vote-tal­ly­ing meth­ods at the last minute. This led to ac­cu­sa­tions of vote-rig­ging from the op­po­si­tion, af­ter it lost the elec­tion.


Che­bukati says the bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion worked dur­ing the reg­is­tra­tion process in 2013, but failed to work on elec­tion day it­self. “That [was the] prob­lem in 2013 – you’re sup­posed to be iden­ti­fied be­fore you cast your bal­lot pa­per,” he says. An­other costly mis­take in 2013 was the fail­ure of an elec­tronic vote­tal­ly­ing sys­tem that was meant to use mo­bile net­works to send vot- ing data in real time to an on­line tal­ly­ing plat­form. Che­bukati did not say if these meth­ods would be used in Au­gust. An­other set of headaches for the IEBC sur­rounds bal­lot-pa­per print­ing. A $24m con­tract for the print­ing signed with Dubai-based com­pany Al Ghu­rair last year was can­celled by Kenya’s High Court in Fe­bru­ary, say­ing it did not meet elec­tion guide­lines. This rul­ing has

Clean­ing the voter reg­is­ter to re­move nearly 80,000 du­pli­cate vot­ers is a pri­or­ity for the IEBC

forced the IEBC to launch a new ten­der. “We have enough time to restart the process and pro­cure bal­lot papers,” Che­bukati says. The IEBC is care­fully re­view­ing elec­toral pro­cure­ment laws af­ter its pre­vi­ous chief ex­ec­u­tive, James Oswago, was ar­rested on 8 Fe­bru­ary on charges of re­ceiv­ing bribes in ex­change for award­ing pre­vi­ous bal­lot-print­ing con­tracts to Bri­tish firm Smith & Ouz­man. The scan­dal has be­come known as ‘Chick­en­gate’ be­cause IEBC of­fi­cials used the code­word ‘chicken’ to re­fer to bribes. “As long as Kenyans can see that some peo­ple have been taken to court over what has pop­u­larly been known as the Chick­en­gate scan­dal, we be­lieve that the cur­rent com­mis­sion is go­ing to be much more care­ful in its ob­ser­vance of the pro­cure­ment laws,” Julius Mu­raya, a deputy di­rec­tor at the Ethics and Anti-cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion, told re­porters.


The is­sue of man­ual vote-tal­ly­ing is a hot one. At the be­gin­ning of the year, Pres­i­dent Keny­atta signed a bill amend­ing the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion to al­low man­ual vo­teri­den­ti­fi­ca­tion and vote-trans­mis­sion sys­tems to run in con­junc­tion with elec­tronic coun­ters. Op­po­si­tion par­ties have crit­i­cised the amend­ment, say­ing it could help the gov­ern­ing party rig the vote. For the mo­ment, clean­ing the voter reg­is­ter to re­move nearly 80,000 du­pli­cate vot­ers is among the IEBC’S big­gest pri­or­i­ties. “The only prob­lem is un­nec­es­sary data, which we are re­mov­ing – the data of dou­ble IDS and so forth,” says Che­bukati. A team of data-en­try an­a­lysts is tasked with re­mov­ing all du­pli­cates be­fore the reg­is­ter is of­fi­cially sub­mit­ted. Dur­ing Ghana’s elec­tion late last year, the op­po­si­tion Na­tional Pa­tri­otic Party was able to ac­cess vote-trans­mis­sion data from the coun­try’s elec­toral com­mis­sion. This helped them to mon­i­tor the re­sults of the elec­tion in real time, and, some say, build trust in the elec­toral process. Asked if Kenya might con­sider pro­vid­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties with the elec­toral com­mis­sion’s vote trans­mis­sion re­sults, Che­bukati is firm: “We have no prob­lem with po­lit­i­cal par­ties run­ning their own tal­ly­ing sys­tem, but we shall not al­low them to ac­cess the data we are trans­mit­ting [when the votes are be­ing counted],” he says. “We want to man­age it as in­de­pen­dently as pos­si­ble.” Mark An­der­son in Nairobi

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