Letter from Sitati Wasilwa

Insights & Lessons from the Annulled Presidential Election in Kenya


By Sitati Wasilwa

Regarded as a bombshell in Africa, the ruling by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kenya that nullified the outcome of the presidential election set a judicial precedence. Though such a ruling was unexpected in a country and continent known for the disregard of the rule of law, it fundamentally altered the politico-legal architecture in view of the political and governance institutions.

The brand of politics in the Republic of Kenya is characterized by ethnic fundamentalism with the presidential elections profoundly described as periodic ethnic census. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth.

Since the dawn of independence, all the four presidents have had one common dubious distinction; prioritizing ethnic interests at the expense of nationhood and unity. The former presidents and the incumbent have religiously practiced and perfected the art of political exclusion and economic marginalization of the ethnic communities that do not have their tribal gods in government.

Fast forward, as the country prepares for a fresh presidential election to be held on October 17th, it is vitally important to revisit the underlying facts, fallacies and myths in regard to the annulled presidential election.

Annulment of the presidential election was majorly informed by the process of transmission and tallying of results and not the voting phase. Controversy arose from some of the filled-up forms containing the purported tallied results being transmitted through the system without the necessary verification.

There have been reports that the servers of the electoral management system were hacked and hence allowed for doctoring of the presidential results. There is an element of truth in the hacking claims bearing in mind that the manager in charge of Information Communication and Technology (ICT) at the electoral commission, Chris Msando, was murdered just a few days before the general elections took place.

This has since prompted the chairperson of the commission, Wafula Wanyonyi Chebukati, to formally write to the body’s chief executive officer, Ezra Chiloba, seeking for clarification that the chairperson’s password was used close to 10,000 times by unknown people.

Road to Controversial Election

The drama and uncertainties that have shrouded the annulled presidential election are a manifestation of the rot that exists in the Kenyan political system and the country’s governance institutions. Malfeasance in the institutions of governance stems from corruption and its twin evil of negative ethnicity otherwise referred to as tribalism.

Being at the centre of political power, more so for one’s ethnic community, is perceived as a golden opportunity for guaranteed access to economic opportunities. That’s the archetypal mode of operation of the Kenyan political system.

Institutional failure in Kenya is part and parcel of the governance system. This failure has been witnessed in institutions such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).

EACC is a shell of a constitutional commission with no record at all of instituting charges in regard to integrity of state offices as per chapter 6 of the Kenyan constitution. If the EACC and ODPP were executing their mandate then they would serve as examples to the other institutions. In fact, the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) would learn so much from the two.

It is therefore the lack of seriousness and business-as-usual kind of attitude that engendered the casual manner with which the IEBC conducted the general election. Furthermore, the lack of ethics may have resulted in some of the commissioners to be compromised.

Key Lessons

Credibility of an election is pegged on the effectiveness and efficiency of the electoral process and not the end result. The means should justify the end. This is a fundamental lesson that other polities ought to learn from.

Secondly, a country can hardly progress if it is inherently characterized by negative ethnicity. Formation of strategic ethnic political alliances jeopardizes the spirit of nationhood and negates the gains made as far as national unity is concerned. In fact, history indicates that ethnic fundamentalism may lead to violence and civil war. Such was the case in Kenya in 2007/08, Rwanda in 1994, and the former Yugoslavia among other countries.

Critically important is the fact that ethics is vital in running an electoral process. This is only possible in a political environment which fashions the spirit of constitutionalism, observes the principle of the rule of law and confers to the fidelity of the governance institutions. This would help in curbing corruption in the electoral process and system.

Paradigmatically, there ought to be a total shift in the metrics used by the election observers. Reflecting on the statements issued and sentiments made by the observers with respect to Kenya’s general election held on August 8th, they all seem to be farcical. The election observers must stick to honesty as well as facts and desist from using piece-meal approaches in evaluating the electoral exercise.

Way Forward

Sanitization of Kenya’s politics does not lie in the theatrics and idealism depicted on social media. Instead, the answer therein lies in the effectiveness of the governance institutions, constitutionalism and/or the rule of law and the change in the thought process of the electorate and citizens in general.

There is an on-going public discourse on the possibilities of a grand secession. This isn’t the first time that secession calls are being made. History indicates that similar pronouncements were made by former president Mwai Kibaki in 1998 and the current deputy president William Ruto back in 2003 with claims that their ethnic communities were being targeted as enemies of the state.

For Kenya, secession would yield more negatives than positives. Bearing in mind the geographical architecture and outlook of the country, secession will result in two states that are economically weak and desolate. Seceding will not address all the issues pertaining to misgovernance and maladministration. It must be taken into account that even in county governments under the rule of governors from the opposition side there is rampant corruption. In case of secession, will the glaring disparities between the rich and poor be addressed? Secession is certainly not the way out.

As a Kenyan, I feel entitled to live in a country that is free of corruption. But this can only happen if the governance institutions will be effective, the rule of law will be strictly observed and citizens will cease to be tribal in thinking and voting.


The writer is a Kectil Colleague, an economist and public policy analyst at Savic Consultants in Nairobi, Kenya. He blogs on blog.savicltd.co.ke and sitatiwasilwa.blogspot.com and writes for the Standard Media via the uReport channel.