By Rafiq Raji, PhD
On 18 October, Roselyn Akombe, erstwhile commissioner at Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), resigned her appointment. She was supposed to be in Dubai overseeing the printing of ballot papers for the 26 October presidential election rerun. Turns out, that was her cover to flee to New York, where she earlier resided before taking on the electoral job at home. It was not her first attempt. She tried to flee on 16 August, after the 8 August election results were released, but was stopped by authorities at the airport. Why did she flee? She gave a series of reasons in a damning statement, where she asserted there could not be a credible rerun poll on 26 October under the current circumstances at the IEBC. She really just feared for her life. (An equally assertive and conscience-striken colleague, former IT manager Chris Msando, was killed 8 days before the 8 August poll.)
Put your foot down
IEBC chairman, Wafula Chebukati, has confirmed Dr Akombe’s allegations: the commission is not only having logistical and technological challenges but is mired in internal strife within its top echelons. Mr Chebukati has asked that staff adversely mentioned, like IEBC chief executive Ezra Chiloba, step aside and allow the project team he has set up to run the election. Dr Akombe avers that even this special team is not well-geared for the rerun poll. Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, insists the vote must be held as scheduled and has instead called for a national day of prayer on Sunday, 22 October. But what would be the point of prayers when there are a number of things he could do using the powers he already has? Main opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) party candidate, Raila Odinga, has announced a boycott of the poll, but has signalled he could reconsider if the reforms he has asked for are implemented. His supporters have been holding protests hitherto; marred by violence on occasion, after the police fired tear gas and in some cases, live ammunition, at them. Even so, the IEBC has included the names of all the presidential candidates that participated in the original poll; including that of Mr Odinga. So what is the way forward?
Mr Chebukati offered some good advice in his reaction to Dr Akombe’s resignation. President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga should sit down and negotiate a way out; at the very least, to ensure the peace is kept. Mr Kenyatta has ruled this out, however; albeit his actions suggest he may not be entirely averse to a compromise. He is yet to sign an amended electoral law that would allow him automatically be president in the event of a boycott by other candidates. And Mr Odinga has suspended protests till the purported election rerun date of 26 October, when he plans to stage a grand one. A damning insider account about the IEBC’s preparedness like Dr Akombe’s almost surely guarantees that should the polls be conducted on 26 October, they could be easily annulled by the Supreme Court again. But even before her outburst, there were ample signs all was not well. The killers of former IEBC IT manager Chris Msando are yet to be found, for instance; fueling speculations he was killed by people in high places. Dr Akombe not only received threats, but so did her brother; he has fled as well. And even though she has come under criticism from some quarters, accused of being a NASA mole and a spy for George Soros, an activist American libertarian billionaire, her actions were not irrational: she was reportedly getting on the nerves of some powerful people by her inquisitive nature. She did make one key point in her exit statement and interviews, though: Mr Chebukati could be more assertive.
Postpone elections and reconstitute board
The ruling Jubilee party has petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the principals of NASA in contempt of court for their purported boycott of the upcoming presidential election rerun without following due process. (Mr Raila is supposed to submit a signed Form 24A to formalize his withdrawal.) It has also advised that if the IEBC has problems conducting the election rerun on 26 October, it should go to the Supreme Court which ordered the rerun within 60 days of its ruling in the first place. It has a point.
Also published in my Premium Times Nigeria column. See link viz. https://opinion.premiumtimesng.com/2017/10/20/kenya-iebc-should-seek-guidance-from-supreme-court-by-rafiq-raji/