31 October 2017

Kenya: Wafula Chebukati Offers Kenyans Words of Advice

Photo: Dennis Onsongo/The Nation
IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati gives an update on the rerun presidential election results at Bomas of Kenya on October 28, 2017.

Mr Wafula Chebukati has been the man on the spot since the Supreme Court decided that the commission he leads bungled the August 8 election and that its declared results for the presidency could not stand.

Abandoned by a commissioner two weeks to the repeat elections, leading a seemingly divided commission and under pressure from the candidates, he looked like a man about to crumble when he declared two weeks ago that he could not guarantee a credible election.

Mr Chebukati last evening spoke out about his tribulations and his reflections on the fate of the country.

LEADERSHIP

The 56-year-old advocate showed his humorous side, making light of attacks on his leadership and the assertion by some, like former electoral commissioner Roselyn Akombe, that he is a weak leader.

"I have watched as people seeking a punching bag found a very good one in me.

"I find it interesting that while some say how weak a chairman I am, those in IEBC say, 'This chairman is too principled and cannot be influenced.'

"I have all these scenarios. I have been called names but this just goes to show that when you have an assignment and you have focus in putting Kenya first, you still will not please everyone," he added.

FAMILY

There was also that awkward moment where he praised the IEBC staff, noting that they worked under difficult circumstances because of the politicians in the same room, but then stated that facing five years in jail for making mistakes, they also had no option.

But while he had earlier made light of being used as a punching bag, he would later reveal that those remarks were not taken well in his home.

"I want to thank my family - my wife and kids. They really bear the brunt of all the harassment I go through.

"When they watch television and people say all manner of things about me, they are the ones who feel it the most," Mr Chebukati said.

INDECISIVE

He later recalled that he had forgotten to thank his parents back home and did not forget his mother-in-law.

In the wake of the storm after his memo to chief executive Ezra Chiloba was leaked, Deputy President William Ruto claimed that the IEBC chairman had been in "night meetings" with members of the Opposition.

Among Dr Akombe's missiles from the safety of the US after her resignation was the assertion that Mr Chebukati was weak, unable to make decisions as he had been cornered by other commissioners and was a flip-flopper.

ISSUES

In the days before the election, Nasa leader Raila Odinga had taken to saying that Mr Chebukati had been taken hostage by powerful politicians and he could not make proper decisions.

That tumultuous time has also given Mr Chebukati time to reflect on the issues Kenya faces.

"What I wish for and my vision, is for this to be the last election in Kenya where we have to face the same problems," the chairman said.

He had summarised his thoughts into questions for Kenyans to contemplate and to seek answers.

Why are the presidential elections so hardly fought?

DEMOCRACY

What are the roots of the polarisation that consumes Kenyans who are erstwhile friends and turn into adversaries every election cycle?

Why is the electoral commission never perceived as a fair umpire?

Are all these things peculiar to Kenya or is it an African problem and what is the hope for democracy in Kenya?

From his point of view, he said, the Constitution might just be the answer to Kenya's problems and the vicious contests for the presidency.

"We cannot fix the politics of this nation if we cannot fix the economics.

"Many people hold the view that the politics needs to be fixed before the economics can be fixed but the reality is the reverse," he said.

With the repeat election now behind him for now, perhaps the rest will be up to the two men at the top of the presidential contest he has presided over.

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