|(image courtesy of nairobitimes.com)|
This article was written by Abdullahi Usman, the Personal Assistant to the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
As a foreigner from a far away distant land, perhaps, one should better harken to that timeworn diplomatese that expressly speaks about respect and non-interference in matters involving another country. But if one may take the liberty to offer an opinion strictly as a concerned fellow African with an abiding interest in the democratic and electoral consolidation on the continent, my humble advice, for all that it is worth, would simply be that we do not always have to throw away the baby with the bath water. Sadly, that has often been the practice with our numerous Elections Management Bodies (EMBs) in several jurisdictions all across Africa.
For some as yet rather inexplicable reasons, we somehow seem to always find a way to discredit our electoral commissions in order to provide the necessary grounds to do away with the existing team and pave the way for the appointment of entirely fresh hands, ahead of every upcoming or new round of elections. It is very sad to note, rather unfortunately, that would appear to be the case with the ongoing debate around the leadership of one of Africa’s highly respected EMBs, the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), at the moment.
In so doing, however, we inexorably end up depriving the commission, nay the country at large, of the inherent benefits associated with the consolidation, refinements and continuous improvements in the electoral process that often come with having the same team conduct more than one election over the course of their constitutionally stipulated tenure. The case of the Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan - led Ghanain, and Dr. Christiana Thorpe - led Sierra Leonean, Electoral Commissions in West Africa, which conducted several elections over the course of their respective tenures (6 elections for Dr. Gyan and 2 for Mrs. Thorpe), immediately comes to mind in that regard.
It is, indeed, not for nothing that several well established electoral jurisdictions the world over, consider it best practice to stagger the appointment of their electoral teams in such a manner as to ensure that the tenure of at least half of the existing commissioners always overlaps with that of a new set of appointees, just so as to provide the much needed continuity that is so vital to the critical job they carry out as an EMB.
The wholesale appointment of a new team into such an important body or, indeed, total replacement of the existing one, especially coming just around, or so close to the election period, often carries with it, the inherent risks of causing needless disruptions and avoidable problems around the conduct of the election itself; a situation we must collectively seek to prevent as Africans, as much as we all possibly can.
Having said that, one is not, in any way, trying to play down or belittle your rights, as Kenyans, to raise legitimate issues or concerns around your electoral system as a whole, or, indeed, your elections management body as presently constituted. But the solution, perhaps, better lies in isolating whatever those specific principal concerns might be, and addressing them well ahead of your upcoming elections, rather than doing away with the current IEBC team so late in the day; and I am talking from experience as a concerned brother from Nigeria, who was deeply involved, and has witnessed, first hand, the immense benefits of having the same team conduct more than one election for what would eventually turn out to be the first time in our electoral history.
Your next general elections slated for August 2017 may, indeed, seem so far away on the face of it. But, believe me, 14 months is a relatively short period when it comes to putting in place the necessary operational structures and logistical requirements for such a huge undertaking as organising national elections in the contemporary African context, with all the hugely daunting and often considerably overbearing social, environmental and infrastructural challenges that often come with the territory.
This is scarcely enough time for any new Commission to settle down to learn the ropes, having gone through your country's famously rigorous appointment processes, and still be able to prepare well enough to deliver on your citizens’ massive expectations and collective aspirations for a free, fair and credible electoral process within this limited period; and you should, quite honestly, not follow that perilous road at this particular moment.
Any move in that direction, at this point, will be inauspicious and amount to nothing but a big and unnecessary gamble, at a time the IEBC needs all the support and encouragement it can get from all quarters to prepare for the huge task ahead, and must be avoided at all costs, in my view. The country’s leadership and its entire citizenry from all political persuasions will, therefore, do well to resist the temptation to attempt any risky experimentation with a new IEBC in order to avert the possible complications that may accompany such an ill-advised move. As Marylynn Longsdon rightly cautions; "if your life suddenly takes a turn for the worse, remember you are the one who is driving".