Why I fled Kenya and quit IEBC — Roselyne Akombe

Wednesday October 18 2017

By PATRICK LANG'AT
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The resignation of Commissioner Roselyn Akombe has exposed a heavily divided electoral commission led by a chairman who does not seem to be fully in charge.

Dr Akombe fled to New York and resigned Wednesday morning, saying she felt unsafe, and that, as currently constituted, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission cannot hold a credible election on October 26.

INTERVIEW

She wrote a detailed statement for her resignation, and was interviewed on the BBC Newsday programme.

Here is a collection of what she said on various issues:

  • Is IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati a man under siege?

Dr Akombe suggested a man under siege, and one she said should be more firm.

“Chairman Chebukati is a very well-meaning person. He has a temperament to be able to be a leader, but he is a leader under a siege,” said Dr Akombe.

  • But is he able? The BBC asked.

“Well, if he was much more firm, I think probably we would have gone much far. There are aspects of his character that are helpful in a situation like we are in. But there are times he just needs firmness to be able to move on,” said Dr Akombe.

  • Will Kenya have a credible election on October 26?

Dr Akombe feels that as constituted, the IEBC will not be able to conduct a credible election, arguing that there were things that were going wrong that the commission was not telling Kenyans about.

“Can Kenya hold election? Yes. Will it be a credible election? Absolutely not,” Dr Akombe told the BBC.

In her statement, she blamed last-minute instructions on changes in technology and electronic transmission of results, the attacks on IEBC staff and rushed training due to fear.

She also singled out partisan senior secretariat staff and commissioners, “endless legal suits” and what she said was skewed legal advice to fit political interests.

“The commission in its current state can surely not guarantee a credible election on 26 October 2017,” she said.

“I do not want to be party to such a mockery to electoral integrity.”

  • What is the state of the IEBC?

Divided.

“It has become increasingly difficult to continue attending plenary meetings where commissioners come ready to vote along partisan lines and not to discuss the merit of issues before them," she said.

"It has become increasingly difficult to appear on television to defend positions I disagree with in the name of collective responsibility."

  • Can changes still be made at the IEBC to salvage the situation?

No, she said.

While she argued that initially there was enough time to carry out the changes in the commission to guarantee a poll acceptable to both sides, Dr Akombe said the time had lapsed and the IEBC had not communicated its challenges.

“It is not possible, as the commission is constituted now, to make changes internally, because you have to have enough votes,” she said, suggesting the heavily divided commission can no longer agree on anything without a vote.

  • Are IEBC staff safe?

“I do not feel safe enough to go back home. This is not what I thought,” said Dr Akombe told the BBC.

She told of the fleeing of her brother days after the August 8 annulled poll.

“They were calling him on WhatsApp telling him ‘tell your sister to relax. Tell your sister not to ask many questions,’” she said in the interview.

As a person, she said, the threats could have come from any of the political sides.

“I have never felt the kind of fear I felt in my own country. If you get those, you will be suicidal to think that nothing will happen to you,” she said.

TRAINING

In her statement, Dr Akombe told of the fears of IEBC staff, especially what she said were attacks on training sessions.

She singled out attacks on recruited staff in Mumias, Bungoma, Homa Bay, Siaya, and Kisumu early this week.

“It broke my heart in the last few days to listen to my staff in the field, majority of whom truly want to do the right thing, express to me their safety and security concerns,” she said in the statement.

Even when she shared details of the staff fears, she said, she was faced with more extremist responses by commissioners.

She said the partisan commissioners were keen to have an election “even if it is at the cost of the lives of our staff and voters.”

But that Dr Akombe was going to flee Kenya for the US was a matter of wait-and-see.

On August 16, she was ordered out of a plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport while she was on her way to New York.

PLANE DRAMA

IEBC, however, downplayed the incident, terming it a “delay”.

“Dr Akombe who is traveling to US for an official meeting. Was delayed at JKIA by officials who have since apologised. She returns on Sunday,” the commission said.

Sources, however, told the Nation that some State operatives feared that Dr Akombe, who reportedly holds both Kenyan and US passports, was fleeing Kenya.

“She was prevented from boarding. She was going to New York. Still at the airport,” a source at JKIA told the Nation.

Reports indicate that it took the intervention of diplomats for her to be released from police custody and transferred to government pavilion at JKIA.