Born in 1976 in Nyamira County, Roselyn Akombe studied Education at the University of Nairobi before going to the US for further studies. She holds a Master of Science in Global Affairs and a PhD in the same subject, both from the Rutgers University.
Until her appointment to the IEBC, she worked as an Under-Secretary at the United Nations headquarters in New York, a position she says enabled her to gain experience in electoral practices around the world.
Her strongest skill, she argued before the parliamentary committee, is diplomatic ability to resolve conflicts and that she had stayed abroad for over 15 years, enabling her to understand more about the needs of the diaspora when it comes to voting.
But the IEBC job meant she was taking a pay cut of up to 70 per cent. Why would she do that? Dr Kwamboka explained that it was a sacrifice she took as a patriot willing to serve her country.
In fact, she took a sabbatical from the UN meaning she will not receive a penny from the UN during her term as commissioner at IEBC.
She too believes that there should be a system that links voter listing with registration of persons, but Kenya strongly needs continuous voter education. However, she argues every stakeholder is responsible for ensuring political temperatures do not cause chaos.
FACE OF IEBC
When the new team at the top of the IEBC took over in January, it was not quite clear who would become the face of the commission.
The new chairman, Wafula Chebukati, was a rather restrained lawyer of many years’ experience, without the controversial outspokenness of Samuel Kivuitu or the brash assertiveness of Ahmed Issack Hassan, his most recent predecessors.
But as the elections neared and the questions intensified with the increased focus on the IEBC, a new face emerged at the IEBC. It was in the form of a youthful, straight-talking and dreadlocked commissioner with high cheekbones who explained things with a ready smile.
At her vetting, Roselyn Kwamboka Akombe had told the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee that as a beneficiary of the Higher Education Loans Board and harambees, and with 15 years’ experience, she felt she needed to give back to her country.
She got her Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Nairobi and then went to the United States, where she obtained her Masters and then her doctorate degrees at Rutgers University.
After she had left the UN for the job in the pressure cooker that is the IEBC in an election year, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, explained her departure in response to a question at the daily briefing on January 23.
“She has been granted special leave without pay to serve in the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission,” said the spokesman. “She’ll provide technical electoral support to the commission in preparation for the 2017 elections and support efforts to prevent post-electoral violence in Kenya.”
An easy communicator with an impressive grasp of the electoral process, the 41-year-old has done virtually all studio interviews on behalf of the commission.
“She has this insatiable need to disseminate information, and will disembark from a flight and ask for the next available interview. She believes IEBC being open and availing information is the best way to build confidence,” said an IEBC employee who works with Dr Akombe.
So big did the focus on her become that Dr Akombe has had to defend her TV interviews, saying they were a necessary tool to explain the process to Kenyans.
“We want to explain the process to everyone. If we will be called vocal for it, so be it. But we cannot be saying the other commissioners did not disseminate information and then we are criticised when we do exactly what you faulted them for,” she said at a Mkenya Daima breakfast meeting two weeks to the polls.
At the official announcement of the results of the presidential election last Friday night, the former Political Officer at the UN played master of ceremonies. She guided the ceremony through the start with the prayer in the form of the National Anthem, and then let Mr Chebukati make the formal announcement.
But as the chairman prepared to start off the process, she tapped him on the shoulder and whispered something to him.
He needed to have the agents of the presidential candidates affirm their confirmation by signing the Form 32C.
As they went through that ceremony on the floor of the auditorium at the Bomas of Kenya, Dr Akombe was in her element, lighting up the room with a series of witty remarks.
One of these was directed at the female admirers who had taken to social media in praise of the commission’s chief executive, Ezra Chiloba. “Our CEO is happily married and he is not a Muslim,” she said.
Her easy-going manner belied her ability to handle tense moments, such as the situation in Dubai two weeks before when a delegation she was leading with fellow commissioner Paul Kurgat ran into headwinds. A representative of the Thirdway Alliance in the delegation had sent back information to Kenya that had been incorrectly interpreted and created a near-storm.
Dr Akombe and Mr Kurgat then called a crisis meeting with the team.
“Being sensationalist will score political goals in the short term but it will not be good for our country,” she said.
The commissioners would, after that, agree to have the stakeholders present when the ballot papers are packed for the airport, have a list of all their contents and departure and arrival times of the planes to take them to Kenya.
Dr Akombe might have hoped to have a more relaxed schedule now that the elections are over, but the incident at the airport earlier this week will certainly be a reminder that once you attain her stature, the spotlight never really goes away.