Is Kenya capable of getting election right the second time around?


Last month, Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled August’s presidential election result and ruled a second should be held within 60 days. Kenya’s electoral commission, the IEBC, promptly set an October 17 to meet the court’s deadline for a re-run. However, doubts over the electoral commission’s ability to hold a successful election the second time around are growing.

This week, the French company behind the biometric system used in last month’s election says it won’t be ready in time for October’s repeat performance – and it didn’t even help the commission validate Kenyatta’s supposed win the first time around.

Suddenly, the IEBC – which already has a poor reputation for holding transparent and peaceful elections – is in unkown territory. Kenya’s Supreme Court is the first in Africa to annul an election result. The commission is no longer untouchable and its ability to hold a successful poll on October 17 is under the spotlight like never before.


Faith at an all-time low

Political figures and voters have been calling for an overhaul of Kenya’s electoral commission for years. The mere existence of the IEBC as it stands is a source of political tension in the country and faith in the body is at an all-time low.

The key difference now, though, is the commission has been called out for “irregularities and illegalities” in the way it held last month’s election. The Supreme Court’s ruling was a landmark one and the claws are out for the commission now.

Its position has never looked so fragile. Yet calls from Kenya’s main opposition group, NASA, for the IEBC to be overhauled before another election is held are far from practical. With the October 17 date looming and the country far from ready, the IEBC is the only body that can realistically hold next month’s re-run – for better or worse.


Technical issues

The worst part in all of this is that Kenya is in a worse position to hold a second election now than it was to hold its first one last month – and that one didn’t exactly work out so well.

With French company OT-Morpho saying its biometric election systems won’t be ready in time for an October 17 repeat, Kenya faces the prospect of delaying its second attempt.

In other words, Kenya isn’t in much of a position to hold another failed election next month, let alone a successful one. At this stage, the bill for the August 8 poll – one of the most expensive in Africa’s history – looks all the more ridiculous. And this is before the additional cost of a second election is added to the total fee.


Political tension

With the memory of 2007’s election violence fresh in people’s memory, tension surrounding presidential polls in Kenya is always a concern. As many as 1,500 people were killed during the violence and hundreds of thousands displaced.

When former president Mwai Kibaki was announced the winner by Kenya’s electoral commission, opposition candidate Raila Odinga accused the commission of electoral fraud. Chaos ensued.

Now incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta had charges brought against him by the International Criminal Court for his involvement in the violence. His charges were later dropped after the court said key witnesses had been bribed and intimidated.

Needless to say, elections are a difficult subject in Kenya. Lives were lost and many more were ruined, yet nobody was brought to justice. And key players like Kenyatta, Odinga and the IECB are still the main protagonists in the country’s farcical political show.

With Odinga once again accusing the commission of election fraud, the key difference is the backing he’s received from the Supreme Court. It couldn’t be a more significant difference either. His camp is threatening to boycott any election repeat held by the existing IEBC but he might not have much choice in the matter.

For the courts, Kenya’s electoral commission will presumably have to provide valid documentation to back its results. This is what it failed to do the first time around. And, assuming the Supreme Court is resolute enough to be equally as demanding the second time around, the commission needs to devise a more robust election process in the coming weeks.

It’s not only a question of transparent politics but one of national security, too. The IEBC’s priority should be holding a peaceful election – and this could be its biggest challenge without the backing of Kenya’s legal system.


Featured image: “Kenya Election Posters” flickr photo by theglobalpanorama shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.