Peace vs truth: A story of unnecessary trade-offs

Saturday March 09 2013

Four days after going to the polls, Kenyans still did not know who their next president would be.

The good news was Kenyans’ determination to vote. The lines were long, the air dusty and the sun hot — but, barring impatient scuffles here and there, little of note was reported.

The bad news was, however, that very fact — that so little of note was reported. Even when it needed to be.

One domestic observation group’s monitors had been up the whole night before in Mathare, where a group of about 50 men armed with machetes and pistols had been going door to door, confiscating identification cards.

One reading is that this was, in the end, about trade-offs. The media does not want to be alarmist and risk accusations of fuelling violence. Neither do the diplomatic missions present in Kenya — particularly in the face of surprisingly effective anti-imperialist and anti-Western messaging by the Jubilee team.

The diplomatic missions were put on the defensive — to the extent of asking senior officers to avoid the national elections centre and asking independent observation teams initially under their cover not to use that cover. No impression of undue influence was to be given.


A story of trade-offs. All in the interest of peace. But what isn’t in the interest of peace?

First and foremost, an erroneous analysis of what threatens the peace — which is certainly not the truth or ceding the legal and moral high ground.

Conflict erupts when (perceptions of) underlying horizontal inequalities line up with (perceptions) of political exclusion.

Underlying horizontal inequalities alone could simmer indefinitely on and on and on — as long as political inclusion guarantees they won’t be fanned into the fires that burn.

Managing perceptions about political inclusion or exclusion is why assuring the integrity of the Kenyan vote is so critical. Fraudulent elections are a potent trigger — because they unfairly determine who’s politically included or not.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is thus tasked with determining whether the trigger is ignited or not. Again, the good news was Kenyans’ initial patience and willingness to give the IEBC the benefit of doubt.

Kenyans continued to vote peacefully as the electronic identification system failed. They sat peacefully as the electronic transmission system failed — as the first and most-costly legal guarantee of the integrity of their vote collapsed around them, the very system meant to ensure a different election this time round.

They even sat by peacefully as reasons for the spectacular failure were ineptly communicated. It is not reassuring to be told that a part of the computer system was multiplying rejected ballots by eight.

But we cannot let this go unquestioned. It is not in the interest of long-term peace to make another trade-off and sweep the questions that have arisen as to the electronic transmission system under the carpet. Or the questions as to what the switch back to the manual transmission system may have meant.

The IEBC must do all it can to credibly verify results announced. And investigate what the hell happened. Let us ensure that these elections do not become a story of political exclusion — but of a clean contest.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France