Our political class spews a plethora of demands for myriad issues at this point in time, but two stand out: the process of who will have a hand in the composition of the body (commission) overseeing the elections and how the electoral body will go about its work before, during, and after the general elections.
Kenya has been here before, many times…
Kenya, once more, finds itself in the throes of a political hiatus, that many are rightfully cautioning could spill over into anarchy if not checked in time.
The 2022 general elections are barely six months behind us, and the opposition Azimio is up in arms against what it terms a “stolen election” in last year’s general election, despite a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary.
Azimio also asserts that President Ruto cannot unilaterally appoint the IEBC selection panel which will ultimately choose the new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners, without involving them and other stakeholders.
Azimio has bundled their demands with the claim that the government has failed to act decisively on the high cost of living in Kenya today; on the streets, this is a powder keg!
Azimio la Umoja Coalition protests against the Kenya Kwanza Government
On April 1, Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga declared on his Twitter handle that they were ready for the next phase of anti-government protests dubbed ‘Mega Monday’ and that they would be the biggest yet and peaceful except if the government sent its agents to distort the otherwise well-planned protest.
Raila declared this will be the “Mother of all protests” and it set the stage for yet another stomach-churning and grueling day of unchartered street demonstrations or so we thought.
President Ruto offers dialogue if the opposition calls off demonstrations
On April 2, President Ruto in an official address to the press proposed a bi-partisan approach to resolve the ongoing stalemate with the opposition regarding the recruitment of new electoral commissioners, which partly contributed to calls for mass demonstrations across the country recently.
He reached out to the leader of the opposition, Raila Odinga to call off the planned demonstrations to allow parliament to look into his concerns on the recruitment of the new commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
President Ruto, however, dismissed Azimio’s claims on his administration’s legitimacy, as the matter was settled by the Supreme Court in September 2022.
Raila’s positive response to President Ruto’s call to dialogue
Within two hours after the President’s address, Raila Odinga called off the Azimio-led demonstrations that were scheduled for Monday, April 3, to allow engagement with the President’s team on the reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) selection panel. Raila welcomed President Ruto’s statement, terming it a “positive development.”
Raila, however, noted that the weekly protests will resume in a week if there is no meaningful dialogue with President Ruto’s team.
The 1997 Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) intervention to level the playing field at the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK)
In 1997, a debate on reforming the ECK led to the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) agreement. The reforms were part of a package worked out by the Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG), which included parliamentarians from the ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU), the Kenya civil society, and the parliamentary opposition.
Later that year, President Moi chose to follow the letter of the Constitution and unilaterally chose ECK commissioners, using his elusive prerogative to appoint new members of the electoral body.
Kenya’s former constitution granted the President total latitude in appointing all the ECK members. The only criterion for appointment stipulated, yet solely touching on the ECK chairman and the vice-chairman – is that they “shall be persons who have or are qualified to hold the office of judge of the High Court or an Appellate Judge”. In practice, this meant that The ECK could comprise a majority of members not agreed upon by stakeholders and still be legally functional.
Swiftly after that the opposition and civil society coalescing around the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC), announced the opposition was opting for mass street action in opposition to the government as the Moi administration was unilateral and non-consultative in choosing the electoral body to oversee the general elections of 1997.
However, reason prevailed and it was agreed that the parliamentary opposition would propose a list of nominees to the President, from which he would appoint ten commissioners.
Kibaki disregards the IPPG Accord by appointing the ECK commissioner unilaterally
When the terms of the electoral commissioners drew to an end in 2002, it found the IPPG accord not entrenched in law but President Moi renewed their appointments once more.
The ECK commissioners were found by the incoming Narc Administration led by President Kibaki in 2002. After 2002, naturally, some of the commissioners’ terms expired and President Kibaki proceeded to replace them one by one without reference to the IPPG accord and the opposition. This drew the ire of the opposition and they blew their top.
The 2007 presidential race was shaping into a pretty tight race between President Kibaki and his friend-turned-foe Raila, this caused serious acrimony as the general elections drew closer. What happened next is a-must read history for every Kenyan.
Isaack Hassan-led IEBC team dismissed due to adverse pressure in 2016
In 2016, the same script was followed when the opposition demanded the dismissal of the whole team of the Isaack Hassan-led IEBC team. The commissioners were subject to the Joint Parliamentary Select Committee that largely dwelt on the process of sending them home, through a politically negotiated settlement.
Hassan and his team battled with credibility issues.
Various stakeholders questioned the commission’s ability to conduct a free and fair poll in 2017. The leadership of the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), a key player in the 2017 general elections contest repeatedly said it would not participate if Hassan remained the umpire.
A send-off package was arranged for them, and they went off the horizon. In came, the new Chebukati-led team who survived against all odds with only three of his original group.
He lost four commissioners after the 2017 general elections after they dissented against his style of leadership and again lost four commissioners who had on-boarded the IEBC commission in 2021 again owing to Chebukati’s opaque “modus operandi.”
Chebukati prevailed once more as the Cherera four faded into the night. Chebukati’s three musketeers, vilified and extolled in equal measure, also took their leave at the expiration of their term.
Looking ahead, it is a choice between democratic principles and expediency
There have been three days of opposition protests over the past two weeks, and the subsequent brutal police-led crackdown, unwarranted loss of life, wanton looting, and destruction of property point to deep-seated intrigues that are better resolved at a round table and not by civil unrest.
There have been calls by some niche leaders to teach the immediate former president a lesson for allegedly sponsoring the demos and indeed his private property came under attack, as did that of the leader of the opposition.
Many traders either lost goods or business opportunities. Azimio has been called out for wanting to use the back door into government, an allegation they totally deny! In politics, a day could be too short or too long depending on one’s perspective.
The voices on many platforms and the results of the demo show a profoundly polarized country in need of dialogue and not demagoguery! If our collective memory has forgotten the details of the buildup to the 2007 post-election violence, then no lesson will be strong enough to reign in our political recklessness!
Many Kenyans have weighed in on the perennial problems bedevilling the electoral body in Kenya and found that unfortunately, good laws to guide our electoral body are not enough.
Kenya is in dire need of two virtues called “trust and integrity” which are unfortunately not sold anywhere but rather are the results of a virtuous-tempered life.
Mismanagement and lack of confidence in the IEBC will continue to haunt the nation until we put the country ahead of myopia and personal gain. Is Kenya short of true statesmen?