Polls row: Seek truth or forever hold your peace
Saturday January 21 2023
The first instinct this week, for anyone listening to the verbal artillery coming out of Kenyan President William Ruto’s camp about the chaos that preceded the announcement of election results last August, and the quick rejoinder from the Azimio la Umoja coalition would be, well, to just ignore the noise. And, indeed, that is what Kenyans appear to have done — going about their lives.
But beneath the indifference one senses a widening rift and mistrust for the political class in Kenya by the public.
On January 15, President William Ruto made what are best described as alarming statements about the past election, when he said there had been a plot to abduct and kill now retired Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati.
Present in the room, Mr Chebukati lent credence to the President’s claims, when he said the 2022 presidential polls witnessed the highest number of attempts to “undermine” IEBC’s independence and to subvert its authority. He went on to cite intimidation by security organs, disinformation campaigns, a violent attack on the tallying centre and the murder of a returning officer.
Azimio la Umoja Coalition’s Jeremiah Kioni fired back with “revelations” of “new evidence” supporting the claims that the election results had been tampered with in President Ruto’s favour. Based on information he attributed to a whistleblower inside the IEBC, Kioni said Raila Odinga had won the election with 57.3 percent of the vote, as opposed to the official result, which assigned President Ruto 50.49 percent of the votes.
The claims are that they are not entirely new. Similar allegations were made during the petition challenging the results in the Supreme Court and, in the Court’s view, Azimio did not make a convincing case. As the beneficiary of the both the IEBC and Supreme Court decisions, one would expect the President to let bygones be gone or, as has been demanded by several parties, set up a commission of inquiry to probe the events of that election.
Given the chilling testimony by Chebukati and his allies in the IEBC, such an inquiry cannot just be wished away. The allegations show that much as Kenya has made tremendous progress in its democratic transition, the gains remain fragile unless the state changes character. The shoots for a durable democracy are already planted. Chebukati’s seemingly brave stand is in reality a continuation of that unprecedented decision in 2017, when the Supreme Court presided over by Chief Justice Maraga, annulled the presidential election results.
Chebukati is right when he says that "the gravity” of attempts to “subvert the will of the people cannot be wished away or swept under the carpet," and that such an inquiry would “enable a future electoral environment devoid of harassment, intimidation, profiling and harm of commission staff while discharging their duties."
The former IEBC supremo should have perhaps added that sweeping those glaring questions under the carpet will harm democracy by weakening the public’s faith in the electoral process.
Rather than encourage inflammatory talk therefore, President Ruto should set up a credible inquiry as demanded by various parties, hear the truth and then decide what to do with it.