Dr Roselyn Akombe, who dramatically quit the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and fled to the United States on Wednesday, said she took this action as she feared for her safety. She also cited frustration from fellow commissioners and senior secretariat staff.
In a face-to-face interview with the Nation in New Jersey, Dr Akombe painted a picture of a statutory agency that was not just at war with itself but also marked by political interference.
“The commissioners can’t agree on anything and, if they did, chances are that the decisions made would be ignored by the secretariat. You end up going round and round without making any meaningful decisions,” she said.
Dr Akombe said commissioners and senior secretariat staff are there to serve the interests of politicians.
“Decisions are made somewhere else and passed on for ratification and implementation. Commissioners and senior staff at the secretariat are put in line through bribery and threats. If you don’t agree with them, then your life is in danger,” she said.
Dr Akombe believes a small clique of secretariat staff led by CEO Ezra Chiloba were responsible for the “illegalities and irregularities” that led the Supreme Court to annul the August 8 presidential election.
She also believes the senior officials enjoyed patronage from politicians and were shielded by some commissioners who voted against their suspension, even though it was necessary to achieve some semblance of commitment to a free, fair and credible election.
“(Mr) Chiloba and his team misled the commissioners about what was happening with the servers. When the chairman recommended their dismissal, he was outvoted, so we could not implement the changes necessary to carry out a credible election,” she said.
The former commissioner said the fact that Mr Chiloba has taken leave of absence a week to the repeat poll would not make the election free, fair and credible.
She said the move by the embattled CEO was “too little, too late” for it to have any significant impact on the credibility of the poll.
“The first recommendation from the chairman (Wafula Chebukati) soon after the Supreme Court judgment (on September 1) was that some secretariat staff, among them Chiloba, had to step aside if the commission was to conduct a credible election, at least to meet the judges’ set standards. This recommendation, fronted by the chairman and myself, was shot down by some members of the commission whose allegiance was clearly somewhere else,” she said.
She added that if moves such as the one Mr Chiloba has just taken – stepping aside – had happened four weeks ago, maybe many Kenyans would have been persuaded to believe that they were well-meaning.
“But leaving now, just days to the election, does not make any difference,” she said.
Dr Akombe said it was wishful thinking to imagine that the forthcoming election would be free, fair and credible when almost half the country has promised to sit it out, adding that the outcome of such a poll would only serve to balkanise the nation even more.
“Voting takes place at polling stations and results are announced there. How could you claim you’ve had an election when probably half the country has boycotted it or violence is so much that people fear for their lives and, therefore, stay away from polling stations?” she asked.
Dr Akombe, a United Nations employee in New York, disclosed that she personally faced numerous threats and intimidation for the positions she took at the commission.
She said she had fled the country partly because of the threats to her life and the fact that she had hit a brick wall in efforts to facilitate the running of a credible election.
“The other commissioners shot down every suggestion I made to level the playing field as had been recommended by the Supreme Court, so my position in the commission became untenable because I knew we were not complying with the court orders,” she said
Looking relaxed and rejuvenated, Dr Akombe said she found so many structural weaknesses in the composition of the commission and the secretariat, as well as a culture of patronage deeply entrenched in the agency that in the end she could not function.
“In many ways, my plan to come back to the US started as soon as I got the commission job because while I believed I got the position because I qualified, there were some who wanted to make me feel that I was undeserving of the job. In essence, they wanted me to be beholden to them,” she said.