To safeguard future vote, tell us what happened

Tuesday January 9 2018

IEBC officials compile data on presidential elections results at the Bomas of Kenya on August 11, 2017. PHOTO | NMG

IEBC officials compile data on presidential elections results at the Bomas of Kenya on August 11, 2017. The agenda in 2018 for civil society and political opposition should be to expose to the public the truth they uncovered during the prolonged electoral process. PHOTO | NMG 

By MUTHONI WANYEKI
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As everybody gets back to work after the holidays, much attention has been paid to getting back to “the real issues” in Kenya.

These issues range from the state of the economy, diminished growth rates and slowdowns from agriculture to construction and manufacturing; rising domestic and external debts.  

These are important as they impact employment and livelihoods.

Unfortunately, even less attention is being paid to the “real issues” that are political except in the sense that they threaten “the real issues.”

Calls for “dialogue” are framed to address the “bitterness” of at least half the country but with little about what underscores that “bitterness.” 

The “real issue” here is what happened during the last elections, and for that matter the previous two elections.

It is not just that the legitimacy of those in power is in question, but that the vote is all we have to express our political preferences. And the vote has, repeatedly, been pulled out from under our feet despite the plethora of institutional arrangements put in place since 2008 to protect it. There are thus two big elephants in the room.

What happened to our vote? And to what extent can our institutions constrain power? If we’ve learnt anything at all, it’s that our institutions are only as strong as the people who run them.

It is not solely a question of institutional design. So the biggest elephant in the room is not structure. It is agency. What can constrain individuals responsible for the public interest from repeatedly making decisions based on personal and factional interests?

This is why truth and accountability for our elections is so important. Truth can galvanise the public behind a coherent narrative. Accountability can provide consequences.

Public servants will know that it is not acceptable to breach their trust. Unfortunately, power has realised that truth can be manipulated and that an illusion of accountability can calm public anger. This is how the opportunity to deal with electoral truth and accountability provided by the Supreme Court ruling on the presidential petition was, ultimately, destroyed and squandered.

None of this is good enough if we want to deal with “the real issues” — now and in the future.

The agenda then in 2018 for civil society and political opposition should be to expose to the public the truth they uncovered during the prolonged electoral process for the public to understand not just the detail of what happened but the bigger picture that arises.

We need data and analysis from civic society, political opposition and from the court-ordered scrutinises — which were shocking at the time but which, even now, are being steadily undermined and termed “untruth.” The attempts to make a mockery of calls for “electoral justice” are persistently vicious.

The only way calls for accountability will make sense is if they are grounded in a coherent and truthful narrative.

Tell us the real story of the vote in a way that will give all those concerned about the truth a solid argument as they demand for accountability in the fight to protect our institutions and our vote.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the Africa director of the Open Society Foundations. [email protected]