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Polls polarised us and so awarding Hassan is like rewarding mediocrity

Friday November 29 2013

IEBC Chair Isaack Hassan (Center) with IEBC CEO

IEBC Chair Isaack Hassan (Center) with IEBC CEO James Oswago (Right) and the Commission's Vice Chair Lillian Mahiri Zaja (left) when they met the parliametary Justice and Legal affairs Committee at Parliament Building Nairobi on July 23,2013. BILLY MUTAI 

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Word came through this week that Mr Isaak Hassan, Chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, had been nominated for the Electoral Conflict Resolution Award.

This award is sponsored by the London-based International Centre for Parliamentary Studies. Mr Hassan was nominated alongside two others including Dr Afari-Gyan Kwadwo of the Electoral Commission of Ghana. The winner will be announced on December 4 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I’m confident Mr Hassan will not win the award. But the fact that he was nominated and elevated to the same level with the Ghanaian is shocking.

It could be that the standards of electoral management are so low that out of all possible nominees, Mr Hassan’s did rank high enough and the award committee had no option but to nominate him.

On the other hand, it might be that the committee is woefully ignorant of Mr Hassan’s role in the just concluded electoral process. Whichever way, nothing illustrates the difficulty we have in getting our electoral process on a path where it facilitates the process of state-building than this instance of the nomination.

Let us be clear, the electoral process is a useful indicator of the maturity or lack of it of the state-building process. It provides the framework within which those we entrust with the process of moulding our sense of citizenship are selected.


Seen this way, polls make sense only when seen as part of the governance process, a process that ought to be the concern of leaders during the electoral cycle.

The legitimacy of leaders is renewed periodically during elections, but that legitimacy is tied to whether the outcome of the voting was indeed the product of a credible process run by a credible body.

Two important issues underlie the credibility of the electoral body. The first is its ability to guarantee fairness in the process towards voting while ensuring the winner is uncertain until all valid votes cast are counted.

Second, while mistakes occur in an electoral process, they must not exceed the margin of acceptable error. Once they exceed that margin, the process becomes biased.

On the fairness of the process that Mr Hassan oversaw in the 2013 elections, there occurred mistakes that eliminate him from consideration for any award.

These include questions about the comprehensiveness and credibility of the voter register, collapse and utter uselessness of the electronic voter identification devices and electronic results transmission system, and alleged corruption of the procurement process that is subject of a court case.

These mistakes were consequential in two major ways. First, they gave the Jubilee Coalition a first round win with a margin of less than 10,000 votes. Second, they have cemented the polarisation of the country in a way that is inimical to harmonious co-existence of communities.

Even previous merchants of ‘silence, peace in progress’ have regretted not speaking out when the electoral process was abused. It is therefore a contradiction of major proportions for Mr Hassan to be nominated for the Award. Nothing in his management of the electoral process speaks to conflict resolution.

The problem is that award committees tend to treat elections as isolated events and make judgements around what happens during voting, counting and tallying. This thinking entrenches these as do-or-die days when politicians pull all the stops to win.

Over time, these few days have come to define what elections are. They attract a vile culture in which the person who manages to bias the electoral playing field sufficiently wins.

Although all manner of ills are committed on these days, the electoral management body that gets away with it wins undeserved accolades as society polarises in unacceptable ways. This scenario played out in Kenya under Mr Hassan.

The ICPS award committee is becoming an accomplice in a potentially dangerous game of rewarding mediocrity.