Raila Odinga, presidential candidate, Nasa, Kenya
Veteran Kenyan oppositionist talks to The Africa Report about the Supreme Court’s historical decision to throw out the result of the 8 August presidential vote “The international community should take this as a good lesson”
Kenya’s Supreme Court announced on 1 September that it had annulled the result of the August presidential election that handed victory to the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying there were irregularities and violations of the law. Challenger Raila Odinga will face off against Kenyatta for the third time in October and says that he will not sit by and watch the same mistakes be made again.
TAR: How does the Supreme Court ruling to annul the 8 August election make you feel? RAILA ODINGA: I think it’s for the first time, not only in Kenya but in Africa, that a supreme court has had the courage to come out and make a bold statement that the elections were not conducted in accordance with the constitution. I have been observing elections in other African countries, and I know that this has been happening in so many of our African countries. And the observers have never had the courage to cry foul. That’s why they say that the Kenya ruling is historic […]. It has ushered the continent into a new era altogether. Immediately after the election you said that you would not go to court. Why did you say that? In the last elections, in 2013, the situation was similar but we did not win our appeal. We were not able to gather the evidence fast enough. Why? Because the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) refused to allow us access to their records. And the time was ticking because the period is very short. […] But this time round we had agents in most parts of the country, and we also had tallying centres. First we wanted to give our evidence to somebody else like the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AFRICOG) or the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). Remember when the police stormed the offices of AFRICOG and the KHRC and said they had not paid taxes? So we said, in that case we will go ourselves.
The re-run of the election is scheduled for 17 October. Are you confident that the electoral commission will be ready? I think it’s not going to be possible to hold the election on 17 October because the IEBC is conflicted and divided. There are those who really want genuine reforms so that we can have free and fair elections; there are those who are basically partisan and are basically fronting Jubilee’s position. We think that the international community ought to get involved in this because this is something that is going to lead to a serious crisis in this country. People have lost confidence in the electoral commission or in elections as a way of changing government.
What changes do you want to see before a new presidential election can take place? We don’t want [IEBC chief executive officer] Ezra Chiloba anywhere near where elections are being held. That’s our starting point. We want the IEBC to remove about six other senior officials. We want an audit of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System, including access to the servers, and we want to register properly audited polling stations. Jubilee created more than 700 unregistered polling stations – that’s where ghost voters voted. So the IEBC is now under pressure. They are being controlled from the outside, and this is not healthy for our nation. And therefore we want the United Nations to ensure that a proper environment is created in which free and fair elections could be held.
Would you say part of the problem is the IEBC does not understand the gravity of the situation? Definitely. They do not understand the magnitude of the problem, and I think it is because they are under pressure from the Jubilee side. But this matter is
a very grave matter indeed. It cannot be sorted out in the short time allotted. Time is not an issue here, we just must get it right. Otherwise, we say we will not go for an election where even the IEBC itself is admitting that there are such grave mistakes. The IEBC is now torn. The chairman has basically admitted that there were mistakes and these mistakes must be rectified before we go for another election. But you can see that the other commissioners are being defensive. They are failing to own up. After the election the international community was pressuring you to concede defeat. What is your message to them? There is a Latin saying, errare humanum est, meaning that to err is human, but to repeat a mistake is stupidity itself. So we’re saying that we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This one here, of course, they messed up. And I think they should take this as a good lesson for them and start soul-searching. When they go for another mission elsewhere, they should not take many things at face value. Elections are very important to any nation.
What are some of the unanswered questions that you have about the elections? We have 500,000 people who voted only for the president – they didn’t vote for anybody else. What did the IEBC do with the five other ballots? They were unable to answer that question in court. Then we have the case of the electoral database. According to the logs the IEBC gave us, results were being posted in there the day before the elections. Jubilee’s chief agent Davis Chirchir used his own account to post results in the system.
What about the role of the technology companies that had contracts with the IEBC? We’ve written a letter to the French government in which we are complaining about the conduct of French technology company Ot-morpho in this election process. They were contracted to supply the information and communication technology infrastructure by the government, but it appears there was collusion between them and the government here to facilitate rigging of this electoral process. We don’t expect that this kind of thing would be done by a company coming from the European Union. That a French company can be doing this to us here in Africa, it’s something that is most regrettable. They are definitely on the wrong side of history. You visited your friend Nana Akuf o-Ad do in Ghana last December and saw him sweep to power off the back of a digitally savvy strategy. Is that something that you took inspiration from? Certainly we learnt a lot from them and sent up people who trained our people to set up our system of evidence collection, our system of tallying. We had a similar tallying centre system, so we worked very closely.