HE government has traditionally managed elections in Kenya. In the early Independence era, elections were managed by the Directorate of Elections. This was a small department in the Attorney General’s office and it had District Commissioners as Returning Officers. It was not until the clamour for multiparty democracy in the late 1980s and early ’90s that calls for the government to get out of election management were first sounded.
Even then the Electoral Commission of Kenya that was formed to preside over the first multiparty poll in 1992 was nothing more than an extension of the Executive. It was President Daniel arap Moi who appointed all the 11 commissioners. There was no input from the Opposition. It would take another push by civil society groups, political parties and faithbased institutions for the the ECK architecture to be reformed through the Inter-Party Parliamentary Group (IPPG) reforms.
Under this arrangement, nonstate actors for the first time got an opportunity to play a role in the management of elections. Even then the non-state actors’ mandate to manage the process was limited, as government control remained tight. The point is that management of elections has been, and will always be, a government thing.
President Mwai Kibaki would worsen the situation when he ignored the IPPG and went on to appoint ECK commissioners without reference to civil society and Opposition groups. The 2007 post-election violence and attempts to reform the ECK are well documented. Even with the emergence of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the government has only reluctantly accepted the inevitable reality that it has no role in the appointment of commissioners. It persists in its desire to control the IEBC through other, underhand, schemes. Even though in law and on paper the government has no power to appoint election managers, it has always circumvented the law to have its way. For good measure, this is not a problem limited to Kenya, all governments around the world do it.
The reason why we have such a high turnover of election managers is because the government has never ceased managing elections in Kenya. The real manager of the IEBC is the government. The truth is that electoral commissions have never failed: The government always gets its way in manipulating the commissioners in the management of the electoral process. What guarantees, for example, do we have that the government’s control won’t again manifest itself? None.