The dust will soon settle on the March 4th General Election, amid serious questions raised about the conduct of the polls by the IEBC, specifically around the tallying process. In many ways, the tallying process was eerily reminiscent of that which took place in 2007.
Thinking back to the 2007 elections, I distinctly recall a polling day where Kenyans from all walks of life mingled freely and amiably as they waited patiently in queues to discharge their civic duties. Having participated as an observer in both 2007 and 2013, I can say without fear of contradiction that the environment on both polling days was quintessentially Kenyan: despite long queues and the blazing sun, there was a clear determination by all to persevere and exercise their constitutional right to vote.
Following that polling day in 2007, the tallying process presented a completely different experience: it began well enough, with results streaming in as expected. Then, after almost two days of tallying, the results simply stopped! After a prolonged period without results, rumours of a plot to rig the election began to circulate. The events that ensued are well known, a black spot on our collective national conscience, constituting possibly the darkest period in our nations history.
Fast forward to 2013 and again the polling day, despite numerous challenges, was characterized by an uplifting camaraderie among Kenyans in the wake of ethnically polarized campaigns. Sadly, following polling day a familiarly nefarious tallying process unfolds. In an admittedly more complex election, with significant investment in technology to increase transparency, we were forced to watch with incredulity as one check after the other failed, completely! None of the technology performed as expected, for reasons that remain unclear to date. The IEBC chose to abandon all systems and revert to a manual system, one that history had demonstrated was a recipe for disaster. The manual system was characterized by a litany of irregularities, including incorrect computations and in some areas, votes cast in excess of the number of registered voters. The recently concluded petitions challenging the results of the election have laid bare a number of these irregularities. That notwithstanding, the process produced a result, one which the Supreme Court has now adjudicated upon.
How can it be that in two consecutive elections under two different electoral bodies, Kenyans voted peacefully, only for the process to fall down spectacularly at the tallying stage? Is it possible that Kshs. 9 Billion of technological investment designed to streamline and safeguard the electoral process could fail completely?
As a country we are at serious risk of further entrenching electoral malfeasance if we allow these events to pass without interrogation, whether they occurred by commission or omission. We must vigorously resist creating a situation that would in future embolden those with the inclination and capacity to subvert the sovereign will of the people, with the benefit of the precedent set in 2007 and 2013, where the tallying stage has emerged as the Achilles heel of the electoral process.
Consider where we have come from as a country: Kenya is the land that introduced the world to mobile money, courtesy of Mpesa; of Vision 2030, Thika super-highway and Konza Techno City; a country that is the largest economy in the region and a financial and technological hub, to list but a few of our achievements. It is therefore inconceivable that for whatever reason, the one thing we are unable (or unwilling) to do is to conduct a transparent, credible election as envisaged by Art 81 & 86 of the Constitution. Just as we are a country of numerous achievements, we must also strive to set the bar for the conduct of our elections higher than we have in the past, and indeed higher than anywhere else on the continent.
The fact that dispute resolution mechanisms exist, and that they were used in the case of this electoral dispute is a positive development. Through this, Kenyans have demonstrated their belief and faith in their institutions.
For me, the important thing was not who would ultimately emerge victorious in the just-concluded electoral contest. What is of utmost importance, however, is that we secure and jealously protect the integrity of our votes, such that we create an environment in which future elections can be conducted in a transparent environment, and free from manipulation intended to produce a pre-determined result.
If we wish to hold more credible elections in future, with results that can be acceptable across the board, over the next few weeks and months we must take the time to critically examine the entire electoral process, with a view to understanding how such glaring irregularities occurred.