It’s about the value for money, value of our vote

Sunday August 13 2017

How can we accept expenditure to the tune of

How can we accept expenditure to the tune of Ksh54 billion ($540 million) on our elections and be so casual about whether what we paid for worked or not? 

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It is hard to write this column as events are still unfolding. The National Super Alliance has just given an electrifying press statement on the basis of information allegedly obtained from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission database.

The information — supposedly the final presidential results — apparently show a definitive win by Raila Odinga.

While the media questions at the press conference were fast and furious, hard and sceptical, once over, the main Kenyan broadcasters promptly moved on to regular coverage as though nothing momentous had just happened.

None of the examination that would normally follow claims that fundamental. The ticker tapes on all broadcasters remained stuck on the supposedly provisional results publicly announced by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission—even in the continued absence of any way to publicly confirm and verify them.

The IEBC’s promise to follow the law and publicly post all Forms 34A not having been effected a full day after that promise.

On social media, public reactions to the press statement were equally shocking in their immediate dismissal of the claims.

What this sadly shows is two things.

First, the utter absence of trust in any opposition claims. The successful creation of a public narrative that has painted the opposition as the boy that cries wolf.

Second, as a result of this public narrative, the curtailing of a healthy spirit of scepticism that demands fact-based, evidence-based, inquiry among the public, regardless of their political preferences.

None of this bodes well. Neither does the attitude of most regional and international observers. Their preliminary reports focused almost exclusively on polling day itself — not where Kenya has typically experienced the most problems: The post-polling period — counting, tallying, transmission and announcement of results.

Something is wrong with us. How can we accept expenditure to the tune of Ksh54 billion ($540 million) on our elections and be so casual about whether what we paid for worked or not? Yet, here we are, only a paltry number of Forms 34A being publicly available with figures being publicly announced that are impossible to publicly confirm and verify.

Where is the value for money? And where, more importantly, is our vote?

As the observers noted, Kenyans showed up in numbers on Tuesday to exercise their right to vote. The IEBC staff were courteous and professional as were the security personnel present.

So, the problem wasn’t about polling itself but what happens post-polling. Only one of the external Election Observation Missions had, for example, the IT capacity, to even begin to assess the veracity of the Nasa’s claim of hacking.

Or the statistical capacity to question the pattern in the results — which, as in 2013, maintained a statistically improbable and steady gap between the two leading presidential candidates. As one cyber-security professional put it: “Random inputs cannot generate static outputs.”

Will anybody assess the veracity of Nasa’s most recent claim? Does anybody care about value for money? Does anybody care about the value of our vote? Or does it suffice to have simply cast it? I despair.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes