IEBC must look us in the eye and say, ‘We aren’t ready for August’

Thursday March 16 2017

 

By Tee Ngugi

In the period preceding the 2013 general election, various observers wondered whether the IEBC was ready to conduct the polls that were due in a few months.

This worry was magnified by the fact that the election was going to be the first under devolved government, making practical and technical requirements even more complicated. But the IEBC, for reasons best known to it, kept saying that it was more than ready to conduct the elections on time.

What happened is now common knowledge. The voter recognition and result transmission machines failed almost immediately, in addition to a myriad other problems.

These problems included uncharged batteries, power outages at stations, too few BVR machines, inadequate training of personnel operating the machines, logistical problems in remote areas, etc.

The IEBC chairman, who had never tired of giving assurances of the electoral body’s readiness, would much later after the election, admit that they had needed more time. As a result of these failures, huge irregularities occurred that became the subject of a petition at the Supreme Court.

Whether the irregularities were significant enough to swing the election one way or the other is still disputed. What is not in dispute is that the irregularities were major and should not be repeated again.

But once again, four years after the last election, we are as unprepared for the August polls as we were in 2013. Six short months before the polls, the biometric and transmission machines have not been acquired. Consequently, people who will be manning those machines have not been trained. Consider also that after training, there should be a period of testing and domestication.

We also have a volatile security situation in some areas such as Baringo and Laikipia. The security personnel the government has dispatched can only stem the most egregious of the violence. The underlying causes of the conflict would have to be resolved before we can have a peaceful environment in which to vote.

Another concern is that politicians are back to their beloved ethnic baiting and warmongering. The tragedy of politics in Kenya is that, over the years, politicking has come to mean fanning ethnic nationalism. To get votes, politicians mobilise their communities, not around an idea or programme, but against another community.

The institutions empowered to stop warmongering have failed for two reasons: First, there is a lack of political will to tackle this dangerous political culture, for the simple reason that politicians love the warmongers in their tribal parties. Second, the National Integration and Cohesion Commission needs more funding, as well as arresting and prosecutorial powers.

The war against warmongers should have been an uncompromising activity since 2008. Today, six months to the election, warmongering is still a major part of campaigning.

In addition, politicians have started reactivating violent gangs to intimidate their opponents. In Baringo, two politicians have been killed in unclear circumstances. Since the violence of 2008, we should have made it unambiguously clear that intimidation of aspirants or voters would be treated with the utmost severity.

Instead, today we still see hired goons heckling speakers at rallies or even disrupting rallies. This may look like an innocuous activity, but it soon graduates to deadly violence. Recently, Raila Odinga had to leave the venue of a rally in northern Kenya when shots were fired. William Ruto, too, was forced to abandon a rally in western Kenya because of rowdy youth.

Then there is the drought ravaging northern Kenya. Livestock and even people have died. Whole communities roam the dry plains looking for food and water. Do we save lives or hold elections? It would seem, from the energy politicians have put into vote-hunting while ignoring the dying, that voting is the most important ambition of a Kenyan.

Also, the regularity of terror attacks in places such as Mandera indicates that there is a lot more work to be done, not just to ensure safety during elections, but all the time.

Lastly, there are issues to do with logistics in the remote areas, and planning for contingencies such as natural disasters. To satisfactorily address all the issues above would require a minimum of 12 months.

The IEBC must stop the platitudes. They must look the nation in the eye and say we are not ready for the August election. They should not be ashamed because this is a national failure for which we must pay, and from which we can hopefully, although I’m not holding my breath, learn.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political and social commentator. E-mail: [email protected]