Questions are being raised as to why top electoral agency commissioner Roselyne Akombe was temporarily detained at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Dr Akombe was reportedly prevented from boarding a KLM flight to New York on Tuesday night. The plane was to leave at 10pm, according to JKIA contacts.
It took the intervention of the US embassy in Nairobi to have Dr Akombe released from custody. She was then transferred to the government pavilion at the airport.
By 8am Wednesday, reports indicated that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission official was still being held at the airport, though IEBC communications manager Andrew Limo told the Nation that Dr Akombe later travelled on a Kenya Airways flight.
IEBC confirmed the detention of Dr Akombe but appeared to downplay the incident, terming it “a delay”.
“Dr Akombe who was travelling to the US for an official meeting was delayed at JKIA by officials who have since apologised. She returns on Sunday,” the commission said on its Twitter handle.
The same message was shared with IEBC staff on the internal communication forum.
“Flights get delayed almost daily. If it is just a delay, why is it necessary to inform workers? So many other commissioners have had their flights delayed for one reason or another and we have never been informed. There is something more to this delay,” an IEBC insider told the Nation.
The government, however, said the standoff was because Dr Akombe had not been cleared to travel outside the country by Head of Civil Service Joseph Kinyua.
Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said it was a requirement for a public officer to get clearance from Mr Kinyua before travelling out of Kenya.
“The IEBC commissioner has proceeded on her travel after being cleared. There is a code of regulation for public servants and officers. It affects even those in independent commissions because they are not private companies,” Mr Njoka said.
However, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights chairperson Kagwiria Mbogori disputed the explanation given for Dr Akombe’s flight hitch.
“Independent offices and constitutional commissions are autonomous. A commissioner or a worker in a commission does not need clearance from the head of public service,” Ms Mbogiri said.
“We are not privy to what happened in that particular case. Our comment for now is just that.”
The Nation established that Dr Akombe had presented a clearance letter but officials at the Immigration desk noticed it authorised her to travel to the United Arab Emirates between July 27 and July 30.
She was part of the delegation that visited Al Ghurair Printing & Publishing company Dubai, which had been awarded the contract to print the General Election ballot papers and results declaration forms.
When the news of Dr Akombe’s ordeal at JKIA surfaced, the social media was awash with rumours, with many questioning why she was leaving just after the General Election.
“Due to the prevailing political situation, Kenyans rushed to connect the incident to politics,” Mr Njoka said.
Some independent sources said the commissioner may have been fearing for her life after being on some powerful people’s radar regarding the August 8 elections.
Apart IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati and CEO Ezra Chiloba, Dr Akombe has been the most visible commissioner, taking part in media interviews and engaging with political and civil society stakeholders.
She was also the master of ceremonies on August 11 as the commission declared the presidential results at the Bomas of Kenya.
Later, Dr Akombe issued a statement denying she was fleeing the country.
“I’m deeply concerned by the statements attributed to me on my departure from Nairobi. They are false and unwarranted. While it is unfortunate that my departure was delayed, I at no time indicated that I was fleeing my beloved country due to questions raised on the credibility of our elections,” she said.
She said she was on official duty in the US and would be back soon.
“I will return to continue working with my colleagues on the next stages of our electoral process,” she said.