Wafula Chebukati’s tenure marked by infighting

Wednesday March 18 2020
IEBPIC

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati addresses journalists at a past function. PHOTO | FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By PATRICK LANG'AT

Wafula Wanyonyi Chebukati has been leading a divided Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission but lives in denial even if his body language at public appearances contradicts him.

His troubles at IEBC were unmasked by former commissioner Roselyne Akombe, who gave a peek into boardroom wars, where some commissioners attended plenary meetings ready to veto Mr Chebukati’s proposals even before they could be discussed.

But he put on a brave face to assert himself as the only centre of power, raffling feathers in IEBC, where tradition required him to chair meetings and announce presidential poll results as presented to him by the secretariat.

He fired the first shot in an internal memo that was later leaked, asking chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba to provide answers to a raft of questions regarding factors that were cited in the first presidential poll case, which left the commission with egg on its face.

CRACKS

This brought to the fore cracks in IEBC, with four commissioners distancing themselves from the memo.

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Nine days to the October 26 presidential poll, the media-shy golfer addressed a tense press conference at Bomas of Kenya, during which he cast doubts on the commission’s ability to preside over credible elections.

READ: Chebukati throws Chiloba under the bus

However, Mr Chebukati made a 180-degree turn few days later to assure the country that IEBC was capable of conducting free and fair elections.

His earlier statement was a main point explored by the opposition and civil society to call for postponement of the election.

Insiders talk of factions in IEBC but Mr Chebukati has been determined to whittle down the influence of Mr Chiloba and the secretariat.

ADMINISTRATIVE FUNCTIONS

Unlike his predecessors Samuel Kivuitu and Issack Hassan who found a harmonious working relationship between commissioners and secretariat, Mr Chebukati has been at war with Mr Chiloba over administrative functions.

Having come last in the interviews, the 56-year-old lawyer took his job with a rare openness and confidence.

He reacted to Monday’s resignations of commissioners Connie Maina, Paul Kurgat and Margaret Mwachanya in a brief statement sent to newsroom, saying he would  release a comprehensive communication “since I learnt about it from the media”.

READ: IEBC commissioners disown Chair Wafula

With three commissioners remaining in office and Mr Chiloba suspended, the chairman is staring at a crisis that could bring his tenure to abrupt end.

When Dr Akombe resigned, saying IEBC was unable to preside over a presidential election rerun, all eyes were on Mr Chebukati.

ISOLATED

He remained an isolated man and everyone feared he would also throw in the towel.

“I know some elements would love nothing more than to hear me announce my resignation,” Mr Chebukati said in a nine-page document.

“In reality, that will be the easy thing to do but we have to put Kenya first. I am determined to make this commission work.”

READ: Fallout in IEBC over Chebukati letter

A day to the October 26 poll, Mr Chebukati’s uncanny ability to keep the nation on the tenterhooks was in the news again following concerted efforts to have the election postponed.

On September 1, the Supreme Court annulled the presidential election, making Mr Chebukati the first chairman of a poll agency in Kenya to have his vote nullified. It was the first time in Africa and the fourth in the world.

DOWN THE HILL

And it has been down the hill since then for Mr Chebukati.

“If he were more firm, I think we would have gone much far,” Dr Akombe told the BBC after her resignation. “There are aspects of his character that are helpful in a situation we are in. But there are times he just needs firmness to move on.” 

Mr Chebukati later loudly wondered why few Kenyans understood him.

“I have watched as people seeking a punching bag found a very good one in me,” he said when he released the second 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.”