Do you remember your parent ever warning you not to touch the cookie jar until he or she comes back? Many a mother can testify to the rampance of children swearing on oath that they did not take any cookie from the jar, only to be caught with sugar plums stuck to their lips or cookie crumbs in their pocket. With the Kenya Kwanza administration madly sold out to prove to Kenya and the world that they won the August election fairly and squarely, unfortunately there are sugar plums and a pocket with cookie crumbs that continue to bother many observers. The cookie jar is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). In this article I wish to interrogate a few of these crumbs.
Let us first agree that the IEBC is an independent institution established by the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. Such independence compels nonpartisanship and non-interference but also a high level of trust that should not be seen to lean towards one political establishment. That means that, when dragged into pronouncements or actions that could show favouritism, the Commission should be quick to delink itself from such and reassert its neutrality to all, for better or worse.
There are five crumbs that are hard to hide when it comes to Kenya Kwanza’s relationship with the IEBC.
First, there is the gaping question of how the KK leadership knew that nearly one million voters in the IEBC voter Register had been moved to voting stations than they had not registered at. To exonerate themselves from this cookie crumb, KK needs to come clean and open on who furnished them with this information and why as well such information was not accessible to independent candidates, George Wajackoya, Waihiga Mwaure or Azimio as well as the motive of going public with it especially before the official Register was published by the Commission.
The second crumb is that of KK lawyers at the Supreme Court publicly hailing Wafula Chebukati as a hero despite his dismal oversight in the 2017 election that was nullified as well as the unresolved questions about the transparency of the 2022 election process. Why the Chairman himself would not maintain neutrality with these accolades is questionable.
The third crumb is the timing of the IEBC reforms and the vehemence of launching the removal of four IEBC commissioners from office barely three months after taking leadership. While changes within the IEBC are inevitable, the haste and manner in which Parliament has engaged this matter leaves the KK government in a precarious position that stinks of vindictive witch-hunting, but also a bad stench of institutional capture.
The fourth crumb is related to the third. The commitment to amend the composition of the tribunal overseeing the nomination of commissioners in the IEBC equally accuses the KK government of manipulating independent institutions for self-perpetuation.This does not attract respect for the new government.
Last but not least, the blatant and deliberate silence of KK to IEBC as a referee deciding to join the pitch and play against certain candidates in the just-concluded 2022 elections indicates a willful myopia to the abuse of court orders by a commission that is supposed to be independent. For instance, how does the High Court rule for the inclusion of a candidate in the presidential race in Petition E275 only for the Referee to go to the Court of Appeal two days later to stay the Judgement? Again, how can KK be this silent about the apparent punitive action of transferring the Judge who ruled in that matter from Nairobi to Kitale a few days after issuing that Judgement?
The proximity of KK to the IEBC cookie jar does not inspire confidence and faith in the government nor in the current processes to reform the Commission. All is not lost, however. There are a few things the Kenya Kwanza government can do to extricate itself from this mess.
First, it may be helpful for the KK administration to simply issue an elaborate explanation for each of these crumbs. If they can demonstrate that those of us who have a problem are on the wrong and that there is another way of looking at these discrepancies, perhaps exoneration would be possible.
Second, it may be wise for KK to immediately postpone this rush to reform IEBC to a later time and prioritise the lowering of living standards for Kenyans as well as the fulfilment of several campaign promises made to the people of Kenya. We don’t think IEBC reforms fit in that priority, let alone the manner in which they are carrying out the exercise.The volatility and fragility of the nation following a contested election necessitates the need to desist from any provocative priorities.
Last but not least, it is not prudent for a government that prides itself as religious to showcase callous detachment to the unity of a nation as well as open vengeance and retaliatory propensities. It would be wonderful to see the priority of reconciliation, healing and, perhaps, even the slightest tinge of forgiveness instead of open vindictive behaviour.