In DepthColumnsKenya: Peace in our time

Wed,30Jul2014

Posted on Friday, 08 March 2013 14:46

Kenya: Peace in our time

Parselelo Kantai

With a million votes left and a few more constituencies yet to report and hours to go before the announcement of the final presidential vote tally, a new race for the control of the electoral process had begun.

 

This time it was not at the National Tallying Centre at the Bomas of Kenya on Nairobi's southern fringes but at the High Court in central Nairobi where a group of civil society petitioners is seeking an order to suspend the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission from announcing any more election results.

If granted – a ruling is due at 3pm today, Nairobi time – there would be an immediate suspension of all activity at the National Tallying Centre.

It would lead to another round of nail-biting delays, so far the outstanding feature of the 2013 general elections.

Today, the real winner will be Peace. Tomorrow, it will be the lawyers.

With tensions already rising in several parts of the country because of general impatience at both the the slow release results and the counting process, some fear there could be trouble.

Electoral Commission chairman, Ahmed Isaack Hassan, 43, the dapper, bespectacled and stilted lawyer who holds the fate of the country in his hands, has become more than a little energised over the past 24 hours.

He has assured the waiting nation that the long-awaited denouement of the presidential race will be completed on Friday.

A few hours ago, Hassan urged his returning officers to speed up their reporting.

The civil society petitioners, under the banner of Africa Centre for Open Governance (Africog) asking the High Court to suspend the tallying process because of the failure of the electronic voting system.

The reformed election laws stipulated that voting results should be transmitted electronically as a check on attempts to tamper with the votes.

It was the bungled vote-counting and reporting process that catalysed bitter disputes in the 2007 presidential elections.

To cure that defect, which had become an almost standard feature of Kenyan elections, a commission of inquiry led by retired South African judge, Johann Kriegler, recommended a system upgrade from manual to electronic identification and transmission of the results.

About US$200 million of taxpayers' money was last year spent on new equipment.

The intention was to digitise the electoral roll, eliminate the possibility of rigging at the polling station through a biometric voter identification system and reduce the risk of parties pressuring the returning officers to change results by introducing an electronic transmission system.

Reports last year of widespread corruption and conflict of interest in the IEBC's purchase of sophisticated new systems threatened to delay the electoral process.

Running dangerously late on its own deadlines, the IEBC allowed the government to intervene in the tendering process. Unilaterally, the government chose Morpho Canada, a Montreal-based subsidiary of the French aerospace and security conglomerate, Safran Morpho.

The deal, hurriedly concluded in late September by a government and a electoral commission under pressure to hold an already delayed election, more than doubled the costs of purchasing bio-metric voter registration kits from Ksh 3.2 billion (about US$ 40 million) to Ksh 7.6 billion (US$ 95 million).

Additional purchases of the electronic voter identification units, poll books and ballot materials cost another US$ 100 million.

So when on the evening of 6 March after inexplicable delays in reporting the results at the National Tallying Centre, Mr Isaack Hassan finally admitted that the system had failed to launch, he was opening the door to a long season of scrutiny, discord and litigation over the integrity of the electoral process.

"It was a failure on the part of the system...a failure on our part...a failure of training," announced Mr Hassan.

But even this admission would be further complicated by his unilateral decision to continue with the process through manual reporting – returning officers physically delivering election results to the National Tallying Centre.

On the one hand, given the rising tensions in the country and the national trauma caused by delays in the last elections, Hassan was under great pressure to keep things moving.

In doing so, however, Hassan took the country back to the 2007 elections where the disputes over manual reporting and tallying pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

Whereas in 2007, 'Form 16A', the final sign-off document electoral returning officers delivered to the Commission had become the focal point of controversy, Mr Hassan has now introduced the nation to 'Form 36'.

Yesterday morning, Mr Raila Odinga's Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) held a press conference raising grave queries about the integrity of the elections.

Acute observers would have predicted this and seen it as the first step on the road to reject the results outright.

It is perhaps testimony of the success of the national peace campaign, that the Cord press conference did not raise political temperatures the way it would have in the past.

The peace campaign, the most influential ex-officio candidate of an election in which Kenya's international reputation is on the line, has been compelling, sometimes blindingly so.

With the government and its securocracy based in Harambee House, media houses, editors' guilds, the church and the mosque and millions of dollars of foreign money behind the non-governmental organisations that front it, there is a public campaign of peace at any cost.

This has had the singular effect of policing political behaviour and keeping public emotions at bay.

And even as tensions rise – sporadic reports of stone-throwing and demos come through the most unexpected networks – the language of peace has prevented passions from ruining a carefully choreographed script of political hygiene.

Yet hours before polling stations opened in Mombasa on Monday morning, an attack on police officers in the district of Changamwe left four senior policemen and at least 10 civilians dead.

None of the 24-hour TV stations reported these attacks – apparently wary of the reputational damage such coverage would have had.

No one has asked Mr Hassan the tough questions about the failure of the IEBC's electronic systems.

This self-censorship is said to be in the interests of peace. Nobody wants a repeat of the 2007-8 crisis.

Yet this language of peace has succeeded in sidelining very real concerns about grievous electoral malpractices, many of which may have happened under the watch of Mr Hassan and the reformed electoral commission.

In slightly over an hour, the race between those demanding integrity and those pushing for speed will be decided ... in the courts.

Today, the real winner will be Peace. Tomorrow, it will be the lawyers.



Parselelo Kantai

Parselelo Kantai

Parselelo Kantai is the East and Horn of Africa editor of The Africa Report. He also writes for Africa Confidential and the Financial Times. He has been a Reuters Fellow and his fiction has twice been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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