Kenya may very well be perched on the brink of a catastrophe, if we are not there already. We are edging in towards a general election as a hugely divided and ethnically polarized people. Mutual hate is the energy fueling the hearts, minds, words and actions of political leaders. The rest of us follow religiously, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome. Things are only made worse by an elections commission that nobody believes in, except the commissioners themselves.
Elections are about legitimacy and perceptions of fairness. There is widespread perception that the Isaack Hassan led Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) cannot be trusted to deliver a free, fair and peaceful election next year. This may not necessarily be true. However, this perception has now taken traction. It cannot be wished away. The question now is not whether this commission should be disbanded, but rather how and when. Next to this is the question of how a new commission should be reconstituted.
The Forum for Reform and Democracy (Cord) is determined to disband the commission by any means. Jubilee on the other hand says, “Follow the law.” For some reason, Cord thinks it is not necessary to follow the law. The impasse has violently burst it the streets, complete with bewildering police brutality from a gone age. This standoff, put together with this week’s unbridled show of wild police ferocity can only sink the country deeper in the abysm of disaster.
Spearheaded by the Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly, Aden Duale and his counterpart in the Senate, Kithure Kindiki, Jubilee is popularizing the narrative that Cord has smelt defeat in next year’s elections. Cord leaders would therefore like to precipitate an electoral crisis so that there will be no elections and that Government will instead be formed through negotiation. Cord has laughed this off and insisted that there is a pact between the Jubilee Government and the IEBC “to steal the election.”
The IEBC itself has not made things any better. Chairman Isaack Hassan’s comportment and attitude towards his critics is one of disdain. The chairman sneers openly at Cord leaders and all others calling for disbandment of the commission. He contemptuously throws snide remarks at them at every opportunity. While restating his now famous refrain that the commissioners will not quit, he has gone on to threaten Cord leaders with barring them from next year’s elections. He seems to enjoy this game very much. Yet this is not a game. It is a grave matter. It could bury the country.
Are there compelling reasons why the IEBC should be disbanded? Perhaps the question does not even need an answer, beyond the fact that the commissioners’ integrity has been doubted. The importance of an electoral authority is such that its reputation must at all times be beyond reproach. It is bad enough that the commissioners could even be suspected of crookedness. The Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC) reports that it has now completed investigations in the chicken gate scandal, in which some commissioners are accused of taking bribes from a UK company in exchange for a tender award. We don’t know what they found out. Yet the fact that the commissioners are under investigation for something that has jailed their alleged UK collaborators ought to have been haunting enough to make them resign. They did not.
Then there are all those allegations that Cord and ODM have been making. Now these are neither here nor there. What matters is that a key player has vehemently questioned your integrity. You cannot insist that you will be there by hook or crook. You owe it to yourself to quit. You cannot use resistance of “destruction of careers” as your reason for not budging. The only career that seems to be on the line at the IEBC is that of the CEO, Ezra Chiloba, who came on board when the reputation of the commission was already in trouble. Indeed, he came on board to give the commission a breath of fresh air. Now he is at risk of ignominiously going down with the rest. It is such careers that ought to prick people’s consciences at the IEBC.
Meanwhile Cord’s own sincerity about finding a quick solution to the impasse is questionable. Having sunk into a lull after the loss of the presidential poll in 2013, Cord seems to have found the political magic wand at last. Cord leaders are finally acting while the government reacts. Any quick exit from the present crises is not in their interest. They have poured scorn on parliamentary initiatives to address the IEBC question. They know that success along this line will take the wind out of their sails. They would have to find a new strategy to give them momentum until election time. They probably will not want this.
Does Jubilee therefore shoot itself in the foot with its own hardline stand against the calls for dialogue? The more they dig in, the more advantage they seem to hand their adversaries. Things only get better for Cord with the police brutality that is becoming the trademark in scattering the demonstrators. This is precisely what Cord leaders would seem to be after. And so every Monday, they will come into the streets to provoke the police. The police will go berserk and clobber every moving object in sight. The police will look bad, as they ought to. But Jubilee will also look bad.
But the agenda could be more sinister than just making Jubilee look bad and therefore losing the election. Cord may indeed be contemplating disbanding IEBC irregularly and making it impossible for other
commissioners to be appointed. This way, the life of the present government will end without existence of an authority to supervise elections. The next step is obvious – negotiated government of national unity. But what happens to County Government? Do you also negotiate at that level? Clearly, we are hurtling towards a cul de sac.