Five things we learnt from the General Election

Somebody has been mucking around with our money

The headline story on the Daily Nation Monday, March 18, here, rightly got quite a number of Kenyans (at least those who posted their responses online) angry and quite surprised. That the electoral commission had actually been told about buying the Electronic Voter Identification Devices when they didn’t have a lot of the functionalities needed for the Kenyan election and proceeded to buy them is on the face of it quite farcical.

In the week after the election, I spoke to two Presiding Officers, and being very good observers and explainers, they created the picture for me of an organisation that was clearly never ready to deploy the voter-identification devices. Both were trained on how to use the laptop and fingerprint scanner in groups of at least 300 where only one laptop was available for the entire lot. Both did not touch the device. In one case, it did not work. On polling day, one told me the device he had been given managed to suck the power out of three batteries within one hour of starting work.

Both did not send the provisional results from the polling stations because the phones they had been given were either not configured for their stations or could not work altogether. At one of the stations, a Master Presiding Officer was introduced at the last minute.

I have read elsewhere that this was a cock-up and there are some who believe that it is a conspiracy as well.

Whether it is one or both will surely be determined by the Supreme Court in, thankfully, the next week or so. What is mighty clear  right now is that someone has been mucking around with our money,  and that someone must be asked a few tough questions.

Caught offside; the Press

Many of us in the Press have come upon the realisation in the last two weeks that we were  caught offside on this General Election.

No. We were not caught offside in the sense that we missed the alleged moment when the will of Kenyans began to be changed. If that did happen, then we were fooled big time,  and you would need more than a millennium to feed such a large number of nosey people a lie that big.

We were caught offside when the electronic transmission system began to fail and all we could do is fan speculation that it had been hacked into. From my observations and interviews, the largest factor in the failure of the transmission was a very boring one: people couldn’t send the results because they had the wrong phones or simply didn’t have them at all. The identification kits failed because some had been left lying around so long the batteries needed to have been charged at least six hours before the polling stations were even opened. We missed this story from the very beginning; when the machines used in training failed to work; when the systems failed as they were being shown off to the parties and on Election Day, when we didn’t stay long enough in the stations we were observing to realise that the clerks did not know the equipment well enough, or long enough to tell that after counting, the same clerks couldn’t get their phones to send the data.

In the aftermath of the grand failure of the electronic systems, people have resorted to the sexy belief that someone hacked into the system  and was playing around with the machines to come up with a favourable result. We know it didn’t work. We also know that had the human hardware issue been addressed, the rest would have been moot.

In our haste, we missed some of  the beauty of Elections 2013

We naturally lost sight of the small gains made in the electoral process so far as we lambasted the IEBC and had the impression created that they ran a sham election.

Who would have predicted in 1992 that we would one day have an election where the candidates would be easily identified by having their photos on the ballot paper? The journey to this began of course with the idea to have the votes counted and the result announced publicly at the polling station. That of course eliminates the chances that a mischievous fellow, of whom we have no shortage in this country, would stuff the ballot with more votes. The beauty of this is that a party can, with a chain of agents at every point, virtually aggregate and come up with its results long before the national tally is arrived at. This was partly the reason the IEBC says at Bomas, all it did was share the Form 36 with the presidential agents before the results were read out. This, of course, assumes that the candidate had agents at every level and would have a figure to compare with that on the form.

We have laws, and we can read them

At a meeting recently, I was shocked to learn, after having to respond to a few dumb questions, that the person we were chatting with knew not that Parliament passed a law to entrench the Provincial Administration.

I was shocked because in my estimation, there exists a law for every situation in Kenya today, courtesy of the Constitution and the Acts rushed through Parliament to make it fully operational.

Think of it this way: had we not had the provisions in the law, Uhuru Kenyatta would probably have been sworn the day after his victory was declared by the IEBC. Any petitions would have been trying to unseat a President. In this, the lacuna that exists as the President-elect waits for the decision of the courts is filled by having that committee headed by the Head of the Civil Service.

Of course we have had the positions of ministers  and the coalition government become a political football in the intervening period. My very boring answer to this has been that since the law does not allow one to occupy two State offices, the ministers who want to stay in office will be asked when the National Assembly, Senate and Governors are sworn whether they want to stay in office or assume the posts to which they have been elected.

A colleague and I discovered recently that from all those minute examinations of the laws as they are dragged through Parliament, their relation to the Constitution and the old ones they replace we have all manner of laws, and boy can we read them.

Media is not your pipeline, sir

My pet beef throughout the electioneering period was that journalists were not allowed to do their job. Because there were eight presidential candidates, each had to get equal coverage, seemed to be the rule of the game. Yet it is impossible to cover a packed rally the same way you would a few people sitting under tents at a compound in Lavington. It is thoroughly unfair. Come March 9 and President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta applauded the media as Raila Odinga claimed that local media was in a conspiracy to deny him and his party. Ironically,  and Maina Kiai was quick to point this out, he did this with Royal Media Services owner SK Macharia standing beside him. Was there a media conspiracy?

Of course there wasn’t.

On Wednesday March 6, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka addressed a press conference. His coalition’s main grouse was that the event at the Serena wasn’t covered live. He made claims that some constituencies’ results had been inflated to the point that the total was more than the number of registered voters. I was among a small team at Bomas that checked the allegations against the declared results  and found them untrue. In fact, one of the constituencies listed had not been declared. When the facts were put to the VP through an aide, he asked for that claim to be ignored.

At Bomas, former Kibwezi MP Kalembe was amongst politicians who were heckling the commissioners as they read out the results. After one such incident, we approached and listened to his claims. He had a video, shot on his Samsung Galaxy 3, which he claimed showed vote-counting taking place without any light. I stopped listening when I looked closer and saw that the source of illumination in the video was a hurricane lamp. A lot has been said about the media in Kenya in this day and age and the one thing I noted and appreciated about the period we waited for the results was that media, especially us local media, had gladly refused to be anybody’s pipeline.


One thought on “Five things we learnt from the General Election

  1. John,

    Nice work. Am glad somebody is talking about the great strides that we have taken during this elections compared to the previous elections in Kenya.

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