Kenya’s unworkable new election date


These are remarkable days in Kenya. The country’s Supreme Court ordered a re-run of last August’s elections that it said were riddled with irregularities. The incumbent government of President Uhuru Kenyatta had won the vote. It, therefore, stood to reason that the most successful illegalities had been conducted on behalf of Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party. Kenya held its breath. How would the government take this challenge from the courts?

In the event it behaved remarkably well. There was no pressure on the judges to reconsider. There were no armed soldiers outside the courtroom. No threats made against the judiciary. The Supreme Court ordered the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to run the election again. Under the constitution this must happen by November 1.

So far so good, but the loser in August’s vote, Raila Odinga and his National Super Alliance (NASA) have pulled out of the rerun. Odinga claims the IEBC needs to be reformed and that there is insufficient time in which to rebuild it. President Kenyatta has meanwhile pushed through legislation that has been widely opposed, not just by Odinga but by foreign governments and even the IEBC itself. Two particularly contentious provisions of the new law are that no future vote can be disputed unless concrete evidence of malpractice is produced and that the IEBC would be able to declare a winner, even before all votes had been counted, on the basis that the remaining ballot papers would make no difference to the result.

The government’s legislative move is not actually helpful. The IEBC chief is seeking to make changes to his organization’s procedures to improve transparency, not least in the computer systems that are used to tabulate the results. Odinga has demanded that different printers should be used to produce the ballot papers, but IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati has said the Commission is bound by contractual arrangements. In an ideal world, the state should be prepared to pay-off the outstanding contracts and open a fresh bid for the printing work. By the same token, Chebukati should overcome the reported resistance of his fellow election commissioners and push through the reforms that would remove any doubts about the probity of the IEBC’s procedures.

But the problem is the constitutionally-mandated date for an election re-run. There is simply not enough time between now and November 1 to make the radical changes that will convince all sides that the new election will be completely above board. On top of this, the refusal of Raila Odinga and his NASA party to take part in the new vote undermines the whole exercise. Such political maneuvering is highly dangerous, not to say irresponsible. Kenya’s 2007 election turned into a tribal bloodbath in which NASA party thugs mainly from the Kalenjins and Luos attacked the majority Kikuyu, whose then leader Mwai Kibaki had won the vote. In the run-up to August’s election, NASA bullyboys had been prominent in the highlands attacking farms and some of the safari organizations, which are so important to Kenya’s tourist industry.

For the sake of their country’s stability, Kenyatta and Odinga need to get together urgently with other political leaders and indeed the Supreme Court to agree a way to delay the election while the necessary reforms to IEBC are carried out in good faith. Anything less will promote a disaster.