Saturday, January 19, 2013

IEBC must rid us of the stigma of poll violence



Look, the political parties were overwhelmed. That is what the minister for Education, Mr Mutula Kilonzo, meant when he said on Thursday that the parties were not prepared for the nominations.

The task of conducting six elections across Kenya is a gargantuan undertaking demanding painstaking planning and enormous resources.

Kenya’s parties do not invest in research, planning and logistics when they have money. They invest in incessant intra and inter-party feuds and in plotting to gain power. They seek power without the benefit of researched and reasoned strategies put forward by think tanks but through forced and arranged marriages.

That is why these parties have gone to sleep between elections and come alive with months to go to a General Election or weeks to a by-election. That is why politicians have belonged to party A at sunrise and become members of party B at sunset, with a switch to party C a clear possibility at the breakfast table.

However, no matter how shambolic or chaotic the party nominations have been, attention has shifted to the March 4 General Election.

The spotlight is now squarely on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to deliver an election that will forever exorcise the ghosts of the blood-soaked 2007 presidential poll.

Unlike politicians, the IEBC does not have the luxury of changing direction like a feather in the wind. It must ensure that it has planned for the delivery of the right ballot papers at the right time to El Wak in the northernmost part of Kenya and ensure the legitimate results are relayed from there to the constituency, county and national offices on time.

Chairman Isaack Hassan and chief executive officer James Oswago and company must ensure that the election of 290 members of Parliament, 1,450 county assembly ward representatives; 47 governors, 47 senators; 47 women’s representatives and 1 President – a total of 1,882 officers – are elected on that single day – March 4, 2013.

In preparation for this enormous logistical operation the IEBC is, according to Mr Oswago, planning to print some 110 million ballot papers.

That is paper enough to fill more than five jumbo jets. But whatever the enormity of the exercise facing Mr Hassan and Mr Oswago and company, Kenyans, as we are wont to say, “do not want to know”.

We want to wake up that morning and find all the materials and personnel ready and for everything to work with military or clockwork precision. We know that the IEBC can take up to seven days to announce the election results.

But we will be in no mood to wait for the second day to know the results, especially of the presidential poll.

Look, very many folks have laughed at us because we got our 2007 presidential poll numbers wrong. Listen, far too many folks have laughed at us for far too long because we unsheathed and unleashed machetes on our neighbours and relatives because one fellow and not the other was declared winner of the presidential poll.

For far too long we have been referred to as the shining example of how not to run an election. For five long years we have been singled out to the world as those who killed each other because they could neither count nor tally ballots. IEBC must rid us of this stigma once and for all by delivering six credible nationwide elections on that day.

Of course, there will be disputes after the General Election. Suppose each of the 50 parties fields candidates for all of the offices above except the presidency. That would mean some 94,050 candidates across the land. I leave it to you to imagine the number of candidates who will take IEBC to court to answer for irregularities that cost them seats.

And suppose, as appears likely, there is a run-off? IEBC will have to make sure that everything is in place to enable us go to the polls in 30 days. Do you, good people, begin to appreciate the enormity of the task facing Mr Hassan and Mr Oswago and company?

Now what is yours? One, you must refuse to be incited to violence. Two, report any irregularity you witness immediately. Three, remember this: voters do not lose elections; it is candidates who do. Four, winners will represent those who voted for them and those who voted against them. Five, politely tell a losing candidate to be leader enough to accept defeat or seek redress in court.

Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant [email protected]