I’m misunderstood, says Chebukati - Daily Nation

I’m misunderstood, says IEBC boss Wafula Chebukati

Friday December 29 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta receives a certificate from IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on October 30. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PATRICK LANG'AT
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When he was vetted by Parliament for the chairmanship of the electoral commission, Wafula Chebukati knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“I want to assure you that I will not just wake up and make statements as was the case in 2007,” Mr Chebukati told Parliament.

The self-effacing 56-year-old chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) gave this assurance when it was put to him that unilateral statements by his predecessor was the single biggest cause of the post-election violence.

At least 1,133 people died in the violence that led to the displacement of 650,000 others.

True to his word, Mr Chebukati strove to achieve openness when he took up the IEBC job.

IMPOSE WILL

He was a boss who did not want to impose his will on the other six commissioners, always wanting to reach consensus on even the simplest of issues, which his predecessors would decide on on their own without batting an eyelid.

The University of Nairobi-trained lawyer who specialised in maritime law frowned each time a politician criticised him at a public forum.

As he soon found out, it is not his willingness to engage all stakeholders that shaped his 11-month stint at the IEBC but what it made him: A weak manager to others and, to him, a misunderstood man.

“If he was much more firm, I think we would have gone much far,” IEBC commissioner Roselyne Akombe said of Mr Chebukati from her home in New York, where she resigned after fleeing Kenya.

It was just three weeks after the Supreme Court, in a 4-2 majority judgment, decided to annul Mr Chebukati’s first poll. This was the first election in Africa and the fourth in the world to be nullified.

The ruling divided the IEBC, with Mr Chebukati and Dr Akombe on one side, and vice-chairperson Connie Nkatha Bucha leading others three in a different direction.

FIRMNESS

Dr Akombe told the BBC: “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.”

Dr Akombe, a United Nations employee who was on sabbatical leave, was so knowledgeable about Kenya’s electoral system that Parliament asked her why she did not want to be the chairman.

The exit of Dr Akombe, Mr Chebukati’s ideological soul mate, crushed him. But the bald-headed, soft-spoken, media-shy chairman took it in his stride.

He wondered why people misunderstood him.

“I have watched as people seeking a punching bag found a very good one in me,” he said when he released the October 26 repeat presidential election results.

“I find it interesting that while some say how weak a chairman I am, those in IEBC say, ‘This chairman is too principled and cannot be influenced.”

RESIGNATION

When he addressed a press conference after Dr Akombe’s resignation, he kept an anxious country on the edge, wondering whether he would quit or hang on, his nine-page speech not giving hints until the last five paragraphs. “I know there are elements who would love nothing more than to hear me announce my resignation at this point,” he said in the speech he wrote jointly with motivational speaker Wale Akinyemi, who stood right next to him.

Since January, when he took office, and especially after the court annulled the August 8 poll, Mr Chebukati was under immense political pressure.

The man who hired him, President Uhuru Kenyatta, wanted the repeat presidential election to go on, while opposition leader Raila Odinga, the man under whose party he had contested and came second in the 2007 race for the Saboti parliamentary seat, insisting the poll should be postponed.

VERIFICATION

Mr Chebukati stuck with the man who gave him the job. He ensured every results form was delivered physically to the National Tallying Centre at the Bomas of Kenya for verification.

After the nullification of the August 8 presidential election, Mr Chebukati later rose like a phoenix and stuck to his guns. He said the IEBC will not resign, two days after the Supreme Court upheld another poll.

As he now sits in the 6th floor  IEBC boardroom receiving visitors, staring down at him are the coloured portraits of Mr Samwel Kivuitu and MrAhmed Issack Hassan, Mr Chebukati’s abrasive and assertive predecessors respectively.

The Trans Nzoia-born lawyer and astute golfer is still on the edge, even after the elections.

Will Mr Chebukati survive the heat and break the jinx?

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