Step into the past to envision elections in future

Saturday September 9 2017

IEBC official use KIEMS to verify details of a voter at Kibra social grounds on August 8, 2017 during the General Election. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

IEBC official use KIEMS to verify details of a voter at Kibra social grounds on August 8, 2017 during the General Election. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

It is November 2022. Kenya has just held Africa’s first-ever paperless General Election. The brave decision to use blockchain technology has, at last, delivered an end-to-end voter experience; making it possible to account for each vote.

This m- and e-voting experience – through mobile phones and web browsers – seems a far cry from the legacy of endless queues, overloaded ballot papers and dreaded Forms 34 A, B and C. The promise of blockchain – that you can’t change the past, hack the present or manipulate the future – has been achieved.

But it’s not just about technology. It’s also about a re-imagined role for Kenya’s electoral management body. After the experiences of 2007, 2013 and 2017, political sense prevailed and the body was reordered. Board membership now reflects political balance; harking back to the 1997 Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group deal.

Implementation, that is, managing the election, has been outsourced to private professional firms bound by iron clad contracts and service-level agreements.

MINISTRY OF LANDS

What about the day-to-day work previously done by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC)?

Registration has gone back to the Ministry of Interior responsible for all population registration. Boundaries work now resides in a revamped Ministry of Lands, Physical and Spatial Planning.

Mostly, however, the leap of faith into a full-tech election has meant that we get back to our daily lives and business at the earliest.

The technology helped, but the greater gain has been a truly professional approach to delivering a free, fair, credible and transparent electoral process and outcome.

In short, credible people/institutions and processes/technology. In sum, an end-to-end experience from registration, identification, voting and results.

A November election? Well, an August election doesn’t work for business, while a December election interrupts  year-end holiday.

SUPREME COURT

Envisioning tomorrow is one way to consider today’s problems. So, let’s rewind back to the present. The Supreme Court declared the 2017 presidential election invalid, null and void. 

Plainly, the end did not justify the means; that the principles and processes underpinning the election were as important, if not more important, than the actual result.

But we shall learn more from the detailed judgment.

Meanwhile, electoral shenanigans persist, with IEBC at the forefront. First, Nasa issued a list of multiple demands including the fresh election date, systems audit and changes in the IEBC secretariat. Jubilee then provided a different list of unwanted staff.

When IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati responded in one page to the latter and four pages to the former, one elected Jubilee official complained on live TV over mistreatment because of the shorter response received.

HOUSE OF CARDS

You can’t make this up! Meanwhile, IEBC has now turned into a veritable house of cards. We are so far from the vision I outlined earlier, but we have an election to run.

I suspect this is a great time for big compromises between our two increasingly irritating political formations. To be clear, Kenyans are not interested in a long-lasting caretaker government.

First, renegotiate the date. October 24 seems like a happy compromise between 17th and 31st .

It also gives the IEBC a 30-day window to pursue corrective actions based on the Supreme Court’s detailed judgment expected by September 22. School examinations? One supposes that our education authorities have the mental acuity to factor in contingencies around a few days. Let’s call this the “Jubilee concession”.

TECHNOLOGY

Second, forget technology.  Our “zero human intervention” Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS) turned out to be a dud. Let’s use it as a biometric identifier and then run the rest of the stuff manually – counting and tallying; no “portals” or “screens”; or scanning, streaming and the like – until we have verified constituency totals. This is a “back to basics” suggestion, remembering our 2022 dream. KIEMS audit? Yes, let’s do it, and treat any findings as a criminal matter, not as something to fix in 30 days. Call this the “Nasa concession”. 

Third, as some have suggested on social media – let’s get our media houses to jointly provide live recording and transmission of results announcements at polling station and constituency level. To a large extent, mainstream media has been voyeuristic.

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