By Jerry Okungu
March 20, 2012
Kenya's IEBC Chairman, Mr. Isaak Hassan has finally tasted what it means to be in charge of elections in Kenya. It is never easy, never been easy and it will definitely not be a bed of roses. In fact one misstep can ruin all of one’s achievements in the past. One blunder quickly galvanizes the public against you and before you know it, you are public enemy number one. In a matter of hours, nobody wants to remember your past decorations. They erase them from their memory with the speed of a computer mouse.
Isaak Hassan’s last blunder with the election date has got tongues wagging in all directions. Suddenly the good Hassan of August 2010 has vanished. All that his opponents are seeing is the reincarnation of Samuel Kivuitu of the infamous 2007 general elections.
I am genuinely convinced that Hassan meant well. I don’t think he announced the March 4 election date at the behest of President Kibaki. I want to give him the benefit of doubt that he is a well-meaning chairman who really wants to do good for this country.
However, a few questions have been bothering me since Hassan announced his election date. First he says announcement followed extensive consultations will principals but after realizing that they could not agree, he chose to come up with the date citing mundane excuses as the factors that informed his decision.
Surely if the principals did not agree on a date, under what circumstances did he consult them? Did he have a joint meeting with them or did he consult them separately as some media reports are implying? If they didn’t agree, why didn’t the chairman seek the support of other players like political party leaders, the Parliamentary Oversight Committee and any other person with a stake in the elections?
Hassan announced an election date 12 months in advance. It is the first time in the history of this country that an election date has been set a year in advance. We are used to; in the absence of a constitutional date, having the announcement at least six weeks to the date. Why was there a hurry to name a date? How can not knowing the date hamper logistical preparations? And if the public was anxious to know the date, was it his business to worry over the public?
That aside, Isaak Hassan has to be a good student of history to understand how Kenya works. Studying the life and times of Samuel Kivuitu as chairman of the defunct ECK would come in handy.
In 2002, Samuel Kivuitu conducted one of the most peaceful, freest and fairest elections in Kenya’s history. He managed what many ECKs had not achieved in more than a decade. With all the power of a sitting President, state resources and all, KANU still lost the elections to little known NARC that was hardly two months old. It was an election that was hailed throughout Africa and the world. Kenya suddenly became a model of democracy in the continent.
Three years later, Samuel Kivuitu had to undergo another litmus test. The very NARC that had won the 2002 polls was now split. One side led by Mwai Kibaki was bent on passing a flawed constitution in November 2005 referendum. The other side led by Raila Odinga joined forces with the official opposition to oppose the constitution.
When it was time to go to the polls, Samuel Kivuitu gave Kibaki side a banana as their symbol as Raila side received an orange.
The duel between the Orange and Banana split the country like never before. In the process, it was clear that Mt. Kenya region and parts of Western were for the constitution while Nyanza, Coast, Rift Valley, Nairobi and lower Eastern were against.
Kibaki being the sitting president was expected to carry the day however, it was not to be. He lost the referendum by a million votes. It was another proof that Samuel Kivuitu was a man of integrity and that Kenyans could rely on him to deliver credible results. It was on this basis that Raila Odinga and company campaigned for him to be retained at the ECK when all signs were that Kibaki wanted him out as ECK chairman.
However when it came to the general elections two years later, Kivuitu made a 360 degree turn, witnessed elections rigged under his watch and openly sided with Kibaki at Kenya’s darkest hour. He lost control of returning officers claiming that they had switched off their cell phones. With massive rigging of the elections all over the country, Kivuitu defiantly declared that he would declare presidential results anywhere whether all the results were in or not. At one time he intimated that if necessary, he would announce the results in a battle ship.
When the theatrics were over, the whole country was engulfed in an orgy of unprecedented violence culminating in the deaths of 1500 Kenyans with over 600,000 people displaced.
As soon as calm was restored, Kivuitu became one of the earliest casualties of the post-election violence. He was booted out of office unceremoniously.
Hassan has done so well so far conducting numerous by-elections and the 2010 referendum flawlessly. Will he follow in Kivuitu’s footsteps with the 2012 elections?