Saturday, September 27, 2008



September 27, 2008
By Kenneth Kwama

Fed up with seeing the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) commissioners pose for cameras after gusting away taxpayers’ money? You are not alone.

Their abhorrence of public opinion, combined with the ambivalence with which chairman Samuel Kivuitu treats serious issues, is setting a bad precedent for heads of other crucial public institutions.

It is surprising that even after the Kriegler Commission recommendations, the ECK has decided to stay put. Among the team’s verdict was that the elections, particularly presidential, were not rigged.

This could have given the ECK a false reprieve, but the commissioners need to be told the country is agreed they must go. For how can one explain their belligerence and continued stay in office after the last Gallup poll where majority of Kenyans said the ECK is devoid of integrity?

This brings us to the next issue which Kriegler’s report was silent about and is a potential minefield — the funding and conduct of presidential campaigns.

The fact that Kriegler avoided the issue, which almost brought the country on its knees, does not make sense.

It is clear the current system does not encourage integrity in presidential elections. The cost and nature of these campaigns are turning presidential candidates into loose cannons. For example, last year’s election was the first in which nomination of a presidential candidate by province became significant.

‘Fat cats’ and ethnic interests

This is one of the worst leadership recruitment systems in Africa.

In many ways, a candidate nominated in such a manner could be pushed and blackmailed into dealing with partisan interests. In our case, these are often tribal and commercial.

The most pernicious aspect of such stretched-out system is the obscene cost of presidential campaigns.

Billions of shillings are spent out of pressure to court ‘fat cats’ and please ethnic interests. Politicians are forced to make promises that make thieves look like angels. They are pushed to cut deals that result into Goldenberg and Anglo-leasing type scandals.

Conservative estimates indicate major political parties could have gobbled up close to Sh5 billion to sell their presidential candidates. We may never know if they spent more because our electoral laws do not provide for that.

In the face of present financial pressures, it is difficult to imagine any candidate can emerge from an election free of obligation to reward ‘special interests’.

The quest to eliminate financial scandals and stop communities from blackmailing leaders to obtain favours is enough incentive to reform presidential elections.

It may not be easy, but it should command urgent consideration.