This time last year, the country was on edge. The police were engaged in running battles with protesters, mainly in opposition strongholds, where people heeded their leaders’ calls to boycott the repeat presidential election.
The poll had just been concluded two days earlier on October 26. At the National Tallying Centre at Bomas of Kenya, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was struggling to match numbers, unsuccessfully trying to justify varying turnout figures.
As a result of the confrontations, many people were killed and property damaged.
“October 26 last year was a difficult moment for Kenya. The low voter turnout alone, even in the Jubilee strongholds, sent a very strong signal that Kenyans are interested in an open, fair, democratic, credible contest,” Mr Frankline Mukwanja, the executive director of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy-Kenya (CMD-K) recalls.
The repeat election followed the nullification, by the Supreme Court, of the August 8 presidential election, saying the results as had been announced by IEBC could not be verified. It was a historic moment in Kenya and across the world.
“There were certain systemic weaknesses and irregularities in the August election. That finding by the Supreme Court went to the core of the management of the elections.
This calls for IEBC to look into its systems and strengthen them,” former IEBC commissioner Thomas Letangule told the Sunday Nation this week as the country reflects on that momentous period.
As per the Constitution, IEBC had 60 days to organise a fresh presidential election. That set the country to a trying period leading up to and after the repeat polls.
The anger by the National Super Alliance (Nasa) leaders and supporters over allegations of having been rigged out by IEBC and Jubilee’s claim that their victory had unfairly been taken away by the four Supreme Court judges — who ruled to nullify the election — fused into a major political and ethnic fallout that almost pushed the country to the levels of 2007/2008 post-election period.
Meanwhile, IEBC was also involved in their own internal wars, which to date continues to define the commission.
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati did not directly respond to our questions for this story, but the commission shared the strategy they developed after the Supreme Court decision.
The strategy introduced a raft of measures aimed at addressing the public concerns, including standardisation and harmonisation of training for election staff and standardisation of polling forms.
“The experiences and the faulting meant that things would be done differently,” the commission said.
In the results declared by Mr Chebukati on October 30, 2017, President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected with 7,483,895 votes, 98.27 per cent of all valid votes, in the poll that was boycotted by Nasa. The turnout,
according to IEBC, was 38.84 per cent. However, this remains disputed as IEBC kept fiddling with the figure even after the results were declared.
Now as Kenyans wait for IEBC’s post-election evaluation report, which is expected to be ready sometime in November, Mr Mukwanja wants IEBC, political actors and Kenyans in general to pick a few lessons from the events of October 26 and the immediate aftermath.
For IEBC, Mr Mukwanja says, they should realise that they have to constantly engage all stakeholders because trust is not going to come from results.
“It comes from a process. If people and stakeholders are not carried all through the process, IEBC cannot expect people to trust and support them,” he said.
Mr Mukwanja says political parties are the main culprits and victims of poor elections.
“If you look at the way political parties conduct their party primaries, they announce results without proof of how the winning candidate has won. On the other hand, they expect IEBC to announce results and show you the proof.
The lesson is this: Without intra-party democracy there will not be inter-party democracy at the General Election,” he said.
The CMD-K boss urged Kenyans to take charge of their political destiny by engaging in and challenging political leaders to respect processes.
“Kenyans cannot be expressing displeasure at the turn of events when they are not contributing to the nurturing of the process. When parties are struggling to get volunteers out there to support them, many Kenyans seat back and watch,” he said.
Mr Letangule says the cancellation of the election that led to the repeat poll is something that ought not to happen again.
He says Kenya is at a crossroads because the challenges that nearly brought the country to the brink last year are unresolved even as the country gears up for another election in less than four years.
“We may not have come out of the woods yet because we are heading to 2022 without having strengthened IEBC and its systems.”
Since the nullification of the election on September 1, IEBC has become dysfunctional with four commissioners resigning. The first to leave, just before the repeat election, was Dr Roselyn Akombe.
Then in April three commissioners — Ms Connie Maina, Dr Paul Kurgat and Ms Margaret Mwachanya — resigned in protest after former CEO Ezra Chiloba was sent on compulsory leave. The two have unsuccessfully attempted to make a comeback.
In October, Mr Chiloba was sacked over audit queries.
Mr Letangule says Kenya should take advantage of the ‘handshake’ between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
“What that tells us is that they have also learnt that the country is deeply divided. This debate on the referendum to change the structure of the government may be informed by the lessons learnt from the cancellation of last year’s election,” Mr Letangule said.
By Daily Nation