The electoral commission gears itself up for yet another delicate and highly polarising exercise of boundaries delimitation against the backdrop of strained relations with the Opposition and competing interests of individual politicians and political parties.
It is an exercise the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Mr Wafula Chebukati, personally concedes is no walk in the park.
In his recent memo to Parliament’s Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC), Mr Chebukati appears alive to the fact that the exercise is political in nature because it defines the geographical areas for rulers and their subjects, access and distribution of economic benefits and in some areas it defines identities of a people owing to their historical attachments to certain geographical features of significance.
“Therefore, boundaries, whether administrative or electoral, have an effect on the incentives of those affected. This explains why boundary delimitation remains one of the most sensitive processes in building of any democratic state,” the IEBC boss observes.
Already, IEBC has sought Sh8 billion to conduct a second review of constituency and ward boundaries in an exercise that comes up amid heightened political tension between President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party and Mr Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance (Nasa), whose members are pushing for “electoral justice”.
The Nasa holds the Chebukati-led team responsible for what it regards as its stolen victory in last year’s August 8 poll.
Although the Supreme Court settled the dispute by ordering for fresh polls, which Mr Odinga boycotted, owing to a string of claims of an uneven playing field, Nasa remains an aggrieved party.
Yet here again the same referee wants to oversee another crucial exercise ahead of 2022.
An apprehensive Nasa co-principal, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, argues that the planned exercise is skewed towards perceived Jubilee strongholds.
The Amani National Congress (ANC) leader claims that IEBC is doing its bidding for its “Jubilee friends” by planning to add constituencies in the Jubilee strongholds and deny Nasa some more in its strongholds.
“We are currently engrossed in lobbying for electoral justice and cannot trust IEBC with yet another undertaking. We have not even resolved the first issue and will accordingly not submit ourselves for another process by IEBC,” Mudavadi said.
But IEBC’s Communications and Public Affairs Manager, Andrew Limo, reassures that the exercise at hand is based on clear and transparent parameters, including demographic figures from the census.
“But we are not yet there and so there is no need for worry or criticism. Besides, the review is not necessarily about increment of constituencies. It may also be resolved that the same be maintained or reduced.”
Jubilee Party vice-chairman, David Murathe, also terms Nasa’s fears as misplaced, pointing out that parameters for redrawing constituencies and wards are known.
These, he adds, are created in accordance with population and geographical demographics, which he insists Jubilee has no control over.
“My friend Mudavadi and his colleagues in Nasa should stop jumping the gun. Let Chebukati and his team conduct the boundaries review exercise as demanded of them by law, table their report before Parliament before we conclude they are biased in favour of whoever,” Murathe said.
Article 89 of the Constitution requires the IEBC to periodically review names and boundaries of constituencies and wards.
“There shall be 290 constituencies for the purposes of the election of the members of the National Assembly provided for in Article 97 (1) (a)... the IEBC shall review the names and boundaries of constituencies at intervals of not less than eight years and not more than 12 years but any review shall be completed at least 12 months before a General Election of Members of Parliament.”
However, constitutional lawyer Harun Ndubi reads political mischief in the timing of IEBC’s move.
Noting that it is seven years since the constitution was promulgated, Ndubi wonders why the electoral body is overly keen on executing the boundaries review within the lower time frame of eight years and not the higher option of 12 years.
“The law says the review should be undertaken at intervals of ‘not less than eight years and not more than 12 years’.
"So why has the Chebukati team elected to undertake the exercise after eight and not 12 years? My take is that they want to redraw the political landscape with a view to influencing the 2022 poll,” Ndubi argued.
The last boundaries review captured in the 2010 Constitution was undertaken under the chairmanship of former assistant minister, Mr Andrew Ligale.
Mr Ndubi accordingly estimates the earliest the next review is due is in 2022, but “IEBC, either working on their own or at the behest of their friends, are keen on undertaking an exercise that advantages some political players in the next poll”.
According to Chebukati, IEBC will rely on census data to be generated next year by the Jubilee administration.
Over the years, concerns have been raised about manipulation of population figures by government or state agencies for political reasons.
Figures from the sparsely populated North Eastern region were, for instance, highly disputed during the last census conducted by then Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya.
Previously under 300,000, the figures shot to over one million, raising eyebrows and even legal challenge in court. To date the issue has not been addressed.
The exercise is also being undertaken at a time when Jubilee enjoys numerical strength in both National Assembly and the Senate, a factor that gives the President’s men and women the advantage of making necessary changes through amendments to the constitution.
The relevant electoral oversight committee is similarly chaired by Jubilee allied legislator, Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni.
Former vice-chairman of the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), Mr Gabriel Mukele, notes that electoral wards and constituencies have since independence been increased in accordance with population growth and the need for more representation.
Somewhere along the way, however, Mukele concedes that political players – specifically the Executive – hijacked the process and started awarding communities and regions new constituencies on account of political considerations.
During retired President Daniel arap Moi’s tenure, for instance, political leaders publicly negotiated and lobbied for new constituencies at public rallies.
And depending on their loyalties and anticipated political support from such bases, Moi unilaterally declared the creation of new constituencies at such public forums.
And although officials of electoral bodies were accorded the opportunity to routinely redraw the boundaries, they hardly contradicted the president’s order, and by and large only rubber-stamped the pronouncement.
Mukele is also worried about instances where members of certain communities and sub-tribes could be transferred to other areas with a view to influencing outcomes of political contests.
The former electoral boss has in mind the Teso, Sabaot and Kuria minorities, who live among the populous Luhya and Luo communities of western Kenya.
“This scenario is reflected across the country, including in urban areas like Nairobi where certain communities are dominant in given constituencies.
"If review of boundaries is not carried out objectively, including at wards level, some communities may never get opportunity to ascend to political leadership positions,” Mukele opined.
Murathe however points out that the mood in the country is for it to reduce the current 290 constituencies into fewer economically manageable ones.
“The technological era now is such that an MP can smartly run a highly populated or expansive constituency with ease as long as they devise better ways of access to resources and development.”
Article 89 (3) and (8) of the constitution mandates IEBC to alter the names, boundaries of constituencies, and the number, names and boundaries of wards.
The boundaries delimitation exercise has previously concentrated on the naming and renaming of constituencies.
For the three terms he has served as MP, Leader of Minority John Mbadi has represented his constituents under three different names – Gwassi (2007-2013), Suba (2013-2017) and now currently Suba North.