And now the work begins on the preparations for the next elections in 2027. The select panel that will pave way for the new appointments to the IEBC has been set up despite the furious engagements between the two main political coalitions during debates in and out of parliament, the vacancies themselves have already been declared by the president, and now the inquiry into the conduct of the remaining commissioner, Irene Masit,  has given its verdict for her contract to be terminated. The way is now clear for the applications, shortlisting, and final appointments to the next IEBC commission. In two months or so we should have a brand new commission to worry ourselves with in the new electoral cycle. Unless of course there are hurdles along the way.

And there are many hurdles. Especially of the political kind. The main opposition coalition has already voiced its opposition to the on-going process. Their major contestation is that the process of appointment is heavily tilted in favour of the incumbent leadership and therefore if left to run its course, will result in a compromised commission. This is despite that the entire process is already anchored in law and the decision-making procedures in parliament are very clear to all participating entities. Basically, this is all legally prescribed.  And it has been used to set up all the previous commissions. 

But is this the best way to set up a commission? Perhaps this is the question the opposition should be fronting.  The die may be cast on this but there is a conversation that can be held moving forward. Kenya has experimented with different models of election commissions since independence. We have had a governmental model where an officer in the Attorney General office superintendent over national elections. We have also employed the political model famously known as the IPPG ( Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group) model in 1997 and currently we employ the independent expert model. All of these have had challenges that resulted into their overhaul. Inefficiency, lack of independence, poor leadership, trust, partisanship and other electoral epithets have been hurled at them. It would seem that there is no model that would cure our election management problems.  

Experts have argued that the Kenyan model, at least within the region and the wider African continent,  compares favorably in terms of its appointment and conduct. That has not stopped its castigation. And for good reasons too. Its darkest hour would eventually come in 2017 when after a disputed presidential election which eventually ended up as a petition, the Supreme Court annulled the elections and called for fresh polls for the position. It was the first time in Africa that such a call would be made. This has boldened the political contestants who draw knives at every perceived or real aberration of the commission. 

We have a long way to go but we have made some strides. Rather than have a go at the commission like the politicians are doing, we should participate in building and strengthening the institution and the other attendant bodies that are critical to the conduct of credible elections in the country. Observation reports over the last 10 years indicate that we have made great strides in the management of election processes. We are a far cry from the mlolongo systems and the dark arts of the past. Granted we still have a long way to go to get it right. But it first starts with a situation analysis that acknowledges the journey we have had. 

Building on these past successes and experience, we now have a unique opportunity to grow the commission over the next several years before the 2027 polls. I call it unique because like we have argued before, we have not had a stable commission since 2002. Further the appointments have always come late in the day for any meaningful preparations to be made. If the commission is in place at the turn of the year, there will be a full 4-year period within which all the issues that require attention can be sorted. This includes getting a buy in from all the current protagonists. In any case as they say, there are no permanent enemies in politics. The side which is ruffling feathers right now could be the one that is defending the commission, whatever commission before the advent of the next campaigns!

And there is a lot from where we can build from. Evaluation reports from the elections, observation by different groups as well as electoral experts, experiences from on-going elections across the globe and innovations that continue to be produced for purposes of improving and enhancing electoral processes. What is required is the robust engagement of all actors as well as political goodwill to provide the space to engineer these changes and advancements. 

Beyond the political banter, leaders need to engage diplomatically and with decorum. If there is a need to change the legal framework or the model of the commission and its appointment process (and this is provided for within our laws), then this can be negotiated within the available legal and extra-legal spaces that do not invite toxic political exchanges. At the minimum it should not be personalized. Part of the political bad manners that we have to do away with is the public character assassination of individuals who have held electoral positions. 

The former chair of the commission, Wafula Chebukati and members of his team, has since the elections borne the brunt of abuses and negative diatribe from politicians. This is despite the fact that  many of the same politicians who are fanning this have been elected through a process conducted and managed by the same team. It is bad behavior and must be called out.  It also does not augur well for future appointees. While I am sure that the IEBC vacancies will invite many applications, each one of them will at one point in time reflect upon a successful application and cringe at the prospects of the political reality that may dawn on him/her after a perceived wrong turn or decision. 

There is a reason we call it an independent commission. We should let it be.

Author

  • Mulle Musau

    Mulle Musau is the National Coordinator for Kenya’s Elections Observation Group (ELOG), of which he has been part of since 2010. Under ELOG, Mulle was part of the election observation missions which oversaw the 2010 constitutional referendum, as well as the 2013, 2017 and 2022 general elections. Regionally, Mulle was a founding member and current Regional Coordinator (since 2016) of the East and Horn of Africa election Observers Network (EHORN), covering Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya, with Eritrea holding an observer status. In 2016 through 2017, Mulle served as Chairperson of the Transparency Committee in the Board of the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors (GNDEM), a global network of observation platforms with a membership of over 200 organizations. During this time, Mulle consulted with the International Peace and Support Centre (IPSC), the Carter Centre, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISDA), Konrad Adeneur Stiftung (KAS), among others. Mulle’s other election-related work includes external evaluation of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network’s 2018 election program; leading research for the doctoral project An Assessment of the Legal and Institutional Frameworks of Elections in East Africa: A Comparative Study of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in 2016; and production of policy papers for the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (Gaps in the Campaign Financing laws in Kenya). Currently, Mulle co-convenes a continental elections observation think tank, the African Election Observation Network (AfEONet), hosting leading experts on elections.