13 October 2017

Kenya's Political Destiny Lies in Wafula Chebukati's Hands

Now, more than ever before, the destiny of Kenya rests in the hands of one man - Mr Wafula Wanyonyi Chebukati - the self-effacing chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

Kenyans are watching with hope and anxiety how the Trans Nzoia-born lawyer will steer the nation through the repeat elections slated for October 26.

Almost entirely, it is Mr Chebukati who will determine if peace will hold before or after the election.

Mr Chebukati has, however, in the recent past, appeared like an isolated man, a lone general leading sharply divided troops, pushing him to hold back on making make-or-break decisions.

Six times since the Supreme Court annulled the presidential election on September 1, Mr Chebukati's actions have been publicly questioned by fellow commissioners, politicians and Parliament -- with reports of even more acrimonious disagreements in private.

UNDER SIEGE

This has either exposed his indecisiveness or painted the picture of a man under siege from within the commission and a country craving direction from him.

The quick move to name October 17 as the date of the repeat poll, only to move it to October 26, disrupted other important national programmes such as the school calendar.

It also later emerged that in settling on the date, Mr Chebukati had not consulted the polls technology provider French firm OT-Morpho, which wrote back to him, saying it needed more time to get ready.

Even though the Supreme Court found no criminal culpability on Mr Chebukati and his officials, he goes into the annals of Kenya's electoral history as the first and the only chairman -- so far -- to have his results annulled.

Mr Chebukati's authority has also been challenged internally on, among others, a decision to fire IT officials, whom the commission's chief executive Ezra Chiloba a week later said were still in office.

Externally, Mr Chebukati has been questioned on the setting up of a special team to manage the poll and for appearing before a parliamentary committee alone.

ELECTION LAWS

Mr Chebukati is also running a commission that is leaking like a sieve.

Last week, apparently aware of the differences between Mr Chebukati and a majority of the commissioners, an ad-hoc committee of Parliament working on election amendment laws sent him away and asked him to either go back with a signed memorandum with minutes, or the rest of the commissioners.

Apparently, the MPs had known that the details of Mr Chebukati's presentation had not been agreed on by the rest of the commissioners.

On Wednesday, the commission leaked out an unsigned statement giving directions on the October 26 poll after the High Court ruling ordered the admission of Thirdway Alliance candidate Ekuru Aukot and the dramatic withdrawal from the race of Nasa's Raila Odinga on Tuesday. The Nation has learnt that the statement was leaked out after Mr Chebukati insisted on further consultations even after the statement had been put to a vote.

TAKE CHARGE

On Thursday, trade unionist Francis Atwoli appealed to Mr Chebukati to "take charge" at the commission.

"The IEBC chairman must be assertive as he is heading a constitutional commission charged with responsibilities of guiding our elections," the Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary-general told journalists in Nairobi.

The most public of the disagreements at the commission was when on September 5, Mr Chebukati wrote a 12-page damning memo to Mr Chiloba, the chief executive, before four commissioners ganged up and disowned the show-cause letter.

"A quick perusal of the memo shows that the allegations are based on some report or information that has not been brought to the attention of the commission," the commissioners led by vice-chairperson Connie Nkatha Bucha said in the statement.

Since most of the issues in the leaked memo appeared similar to what Mr Odinga raised in his Supreme Court petition, Nasa has repeatedly used the ugly episode to paint a picture of a chairman hanging by the thread -- a good man, they say, who has been held hostage by Jubilee-leaning commissioners.

JUBILEE

"It is now evident that Jubilee is firmly in charge of IEBC through four commissioners who have set out to implement the Jubilee agenda within the commission," Mr Odinga told journalists at the Okoa Kenya offices in Lavington, Nairobi, when he withdrew from the race.

He said the "conservative wing of the IEBC" had a firm grip on the operations of the commission, with every decision of the chairman being "countermanded".

But sources within the IEBC told the Nation of a man they said was well-meaning and one who had purposed to reach out to all sides before making a decision.

How much this prevarication can be blamed on the lawyer or the push and pull within or without the commission, can only remain a matter of conjecture. But any more equivocation from the chairman only two weeks to poll day could be preparing the country for another election fraught with peril.

WORKING LATE

An early riser and a man who has no qualms working late, Mr Chebukati has also been described by insiders at the commission as "a man of order and detail, the diplomatic type who feels the need to involve as many of the parties as possible in decisions".

Mr Chebukati started his stint at the commission by opening his arms and his doors to any of the political camps who sought to consult him and has since appeared disturbed that even with such an offer, politicians would still prosecute him in public and in the media.

Outside IEBC, little is known of the advocate who practices from Agip House, the downtown office where the doyen of opposition politics Jaramogi Oginga Odinga operated from.

The only time Mr Chebukati took a high profile case was when he tried, unsuccessfully, to defend the beleaguered former Ethics and anti-Corruption Commission chief Philip Kinisu.

The 56-year-old University of Nairobi law graduate's admirers point to his "track record in (the) Kenya Golf Union both in Mombasa and Nairobi."

His critics, however, say he did not prosecute his case well during the interview for the job, garnering 63 marks against Mr Tukero Ole Kina's 79.

Additional reporting by John Ngirachu and Collins Omulo

Kenya

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