Monday, March 11, 2013

Why did the Pope resign?

PHOTO | OSSERVATORE ROMANO Benedict XVI walking in his new temporary residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome, a few hours before he officially resigned.

PHOTO | OSSERVATORE ROMANO Benedict XVI walking in his new temporary residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome, a few hours before he officially resigned.  AFP

By WAGA ODONGO

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI means the faithful can call on a man thought by many as infallible to stand aside in the future. The Pope is believed (ahem) to be chosen by the Holy Spirit and only powers from beyond can get a recall.

The Bishop of Rome is the earthly representative of Jesus Christ, according to the faithful. So, at present, Jesus Christ is not represented in the earthly realm as the last office holder called it quits.

Catholicism is by far the largest church that covers the four corners of the earth and has over a billion members. With time, and thanks largely to the last Pope, the papacy has become a position of great importance.

So why would Pope Benedict XVI resign?

He was the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith (CDF), which overseas Catholic doctrine and is one of the congregations.

He was also the former Pope’s most trusted adviser. Through his writing, which has been prolific, he has defended robustly the Catholic faith’s stances, some of which have not gone down well with church faithful.

So why would someone so steeped in the ways of the Vatican City call it quits? If you believe in infallibility, you do not have time to entertain second thoughts.

He is an insider and knows the demands of the job since he practically oversaw the papacy during John Paul II’s later years. He was the conservative’s conservative and has even promoted the use of Latin in Mass. I do not think religious conservatives change their minds often, or at all concerning the major issues.

Would a conservative not think it anathema to break centuries of traditions in an office that has been around for millennia? If he really believes the office comes from divine authority, how could he resign?

He claimed not to be ill mentally or physically and has access to the best medical health facilities in the world. He looked like a Pope who would hang on to ensure that his views on celibacy, women priests, and other moral quandaries are kept firmly in place.

The papacy is meant to be one’s last station on earth before going off to meet their predecessor, Saint Peter, outside the Pearly Gates.

There are only three reasons I could think of to make the Pope want to resign. 1. Scandal. 2. He would like to influence the election of his successor (ensure a religious conservative with his moral, pastoral, and theological leanings is put in place) 3. He has lost his faith.

I will not tell you which one I suspect is the real reason.

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Should we really pay for these BVR kits?

A friend once asked me how BVR kits would function in areas without electricity. The answer was obvious to me. At least I thought it was.

They would use a generator. Or solar power, if they were feeling carbon-conscious. Well, when the first vote under the new Constitution came up, they did not have a back up to the batteries in places with no electricity. The batteries were soon exhausted.

The procurement of the BVR kits was a political shambles, but I felt that integrity was infused into the process when the Canadian High Commission came on board to assist us. The BVR kits were sourced through a government-to-government deal, and were meant to make it easier to weed out those who register twice or have two IDs, dead voters, and prevent any low-brow electoral chicanery.

Isaack Hassan was in Ghana for their election last year when some of the BVR kits they used over there failed. I noted with glee on television that the Ghanaian BVR kits looked less advanced than ours.

When they came back, they said they had learnt a lot about BVR kits and their functioning, such as how they malfunction under heat and how they sometimes fail to read elderly peoples’ fingerprints.

Justice Kriegler asked Kenya to put in place a transparent and efficient electoral system which would form the basis of a free and fair election. The BVR kits were meant to go a long way in ensuring that the votes cast were only by legitimate voters.

We are still paying for the biometric kits, and we will still be paying for them after the next General Election since we took a 10-year multi-billion-shilling loan from Standard Chartered Plc at over five per cent interest.

We should be told why so many failed so quickly. We should ask why we bothered getting them and then did not use them. When you buy a car you hope the airbags work as they are supposed to. When they do not, you have a right to question. We need a refund from the Canadian government, or an explanation as to what the problem was or has been.

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The geeks failed us, big time

At the heart of any democracy is the vote, the symbol of the will of the people. When we go to the polls, we must, then, ensure that the vote is counted correctly.

That is why the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission invested so much in a real-time tallying system. It is not only faster, but it is also more transparent and fairer since everyone gets to find out who has what when. That is why commission chair Isaack Hassan promised us a president within 48 hours of voting. Yeah, things looked that rosy.

During the initial tallying on Tuesday, run using the Virtual Private Network, there was a worry that there were too many rejected and spoilt votes. Pundits even waded in mouth-first to suggest that the sheer complexity and multiplicity of positions was behind this. But all this turned out to be wrong; the tallying was hobbled by some nefarious piece of computing code.

In the documentary Hacking Democracy, an elderly grandmother sets out to find out how America’s votes are counted. What she finds is distressing. She finds tallying machines that started off negative for John Kerry in the 2004 elections. She also finds out that it is possible to log in and out of the tallying software without anyone being alerted. She also finds out, most worryingly, that the tally can be altered after votes are cast in favour of any candidate.

In the documentary, they show multiple methods of how to tamper with the votes and numbers. Most shocking of all was that the codes governing counting of votes could somehow be altered without the need of a password to gain access to the system. It was alarming to see that happen in such a technologically advanced country as the United States.

Electronic vote tallying is a tricky business, which is why I was not shocked to hear Hassan inform the nation that the problem on Tuesday was brought about by a rogue programme that multiplied the number of rejected votes by a factor of eight. But this would have been understandable were it not for the fact that some of the figures reported in the rejected vote’s column were not divisible by eight. So the explanation is hardly satisfactory unless the IEBC tallying computer recognises half a vote.

Another question we should ask is whether the geeks performed any tests on the system before rolling it our. The sheer weight of the data that would be passed through it, across so diverse a region, was a probable factor for the collapse of the system, but I assumed all these variables were factored in.

In the end IEBC, decided to ask the various returning officers to traverse the length of the country carrying suitcases with voting material.

And the ROs proved one thing: we live in a country where crude oil is received, refined, and disseminated faster throughout the country than votes.

We need an inquiry to find out why the IEBC fell short of our expectations, especially in the electronic tallying of votes.

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