By Kenyatta Otieno
It is election season in Kenya. The spin-doctors are up and about and the master, Mutahi Ngunyi, has come up with a sequel to his power-clinching treatise, Tyranny of Numbers. Mutahi opined in a local daily that tyranny of numbers, which is simply the numerical strength of Kikuyu and Kalenjin votes, does not hold water anymore. He minced his words, however, and he had to avoid bones so that the product was rich in breadth but lacking in depth. It is these bones that I have picked in my quest to question the validity of this tyranny in 2013 – because politics and elections are more about perceptions than reality.
I was against Raila’s push to kick out IEBC Commissioners through mass action. I felt like he was taking advantage of his fanatical support in Luo-Nyanza to use the youth as cannon fodder. Nevertheless, he achieved his desire and had the commissioners removed. My main bone from this are the words of the former Chairman of IEBC Issack Hassan, who said, “even if we leave office, some people will still lose elections”. It was an extremely reckless statement that passed public scrutiny, perhaps because people thought he was spitting sour grapes.
Then in early December a local daily reported how one of the IEBC commissioners allied to Jubilee Coalition met some politicians at a local hotel. She (or he) apparently told the politicians that if the Elections Act that was passed after the push by Cord was not amended, Jubilee would lose elections in August this year. The politician did not even finish his drink; he rushed out to send word to his party leaders. My heart sank when Majority Leader Aden Duale moved the motion on the floor of the house with a caveat that it should be passed without changing even a comma. This scenario of the Legislature playing to the whims of the Executive has often come back to bite the not-so-august House.
The bone of contention is the introduction of a clause that allows for manual identification of voters and transmission of results in case the electronic system fails. The other changes to the Bills are flowers meant to cover for this. To begin with, the general understanding in Kenya was that 2017 election had either been bagged or bungled. In both cases, people were prepared to accept an Uhuru Kenyatta presidency until Parliament was recalled from recess. Kenyans have woken up to the fact that the election has not been bagged yet and bunglers are still devoid of ideas.
I came to believe that even Jubilee politicians, maybe even to the very top, might have believed the 2013 fallacy that is Mutahi Ngunyi’s tyranny of numbers. This could be the reason they foolishly agreed to pass that Bill in parliament only to come rushing in to amend it amidst acrimony. Someone did not tell them that Ngunyi just prepared the ground for the massaging of figures. If this were not true, then the Jubilee side in the Joint Select Committee of parliament that was co-chaired by Senator Kiraitu Murungi was not briefed by Mutahi Ngunyi, slept on the job or assumed, like everyone else, that the election is a done deal.
That the tip-off came from a former IEBC insider is further proof that the figures were soothed to tell a different story. The rush with which the amendments were drafted and parliament recalled from Christmas recess to pass them tells more than necessary. If you see a toad out at noon, know that someone is after its life. The move to amend this law has just sent the country to the edge of the cliff. This year’s election, which was widely seen as a formality, is now expected to either tip or turn around our fledgling democracy.
The ‘voter turnout’ myth
One blot to our democracy is the stronghold phenomenon. In Kenya, politicians turn their tribal blocs into voting machines. William Ruto has the Kalenjin bloc, Raila has Luo Nyanza and Uhuru Kenyatta has GEMA. The voters in these reasons will cast their votes to the last man where the tribal chief has directed them. If you look at 2013 results, GEMA and Kalenjin Counties had over 90% voter turnout for Jubilee and Luo Nyanza garnered over 90% for CORD’s Raila Odinga.
I will peg my story line on the voter turnout on the US. As at April last year, according the US National Institute of Literacy, 86% of adult Americans could read and write. This is a country that had a voter turnout of 64% when Obama lit the campaign trail with his Yes we Can call. Last year, the informal figures put the turnout at 58%. This is a country where 80% of voters are politically conscious and don’t have challenges in terms of means to access polling stations. They can also cast their votes in advance at their own leisure before the voting day.
In the 2013 presidential election, Jubilee strongholds of Nyeri and Murang’a Counties had 94% voter turnout, while Kericho and Elgeyo Marakwet had 91%. Siaya had 92% while Homa Bay had 94%. Generally the whole country had a turnout of 86% in presidential elections. No figures were given for the other posts –this is another bone to pick with the tyranny of numbers narrative. My take is not in these strongholds but with turnout in marginalised counties like Tana River, Moyale, Mandera, Marsabit and Turkana.
If you have visited the counties I have mentioned above, which the colonial government had labelled the Northern Frontier District, you will understand how much it cost a voter in the generally dry season in March to go and vote. Yet, we are told, turnout for Turkana was 76%, West Pokot 90%, Tana River 81%, Wajir 85%, Mandera 84%, Marsabit 86% and Garissa 80%. On the other side, Kakamega had 84%, Nairobi 88%, Trans Nzoia 82% and Mombasa 66%.
What do the above figures tell? That all factors held constant, the voter turnout in generally urban counties in Cord zones is lower or equal to that in rural, marginalised outpost counties where Uhuru Kenyatta managed at least 25%. Nairobi and Mombasa are generally urban cosmopolitan counties with slight Cord majorities. Transport services were available during voting and the day was a national holiday. Now compare that with a pastoralist county in the dry month of March, ignoring their livestock to outdo Nairobi and Mombasa in terms of turnout!
Such figures, against low literacy levels and a nomadic lifestyle, do not add up. This also happens where it was reported that a good number only voted for the presidential candidates and ignored the other ballot papers. This discrepancy led to delay in the release the final results of 2013 election by IEBC by at least one year. This is where the bone of contention between the proponents of manual back up and a purely electronic system lies – that once people have voted, it is easy to cancel out names of people who did not show up in the register manually and stuff the boxes.
In 2013, Marsabit County, in far north of Kenya, transmitted its results, including from far flung constituency of North Horr, well before Tharaka Nithi in Meru, which tilted the tally to Jubilee’s advantage. The proponents of a complementary system are placing lack of 3G Internet connectivity countrywide as the main reason for including manual back up in the law. The opponents of a purely electronic system believe it is the only way to credible elections. Somewhere between the two sides, the growth of our democracy is at stake.
This push-and-pull brings me to the big question. Raila still won in five out of eight of the former provinces with a slim victory in Eastern and Nairobi but still lost. I have come to the conclusion that tyranny of numbers is an anti-Raila smoke screen. This means that we can only have credible elections, in the eyes of Kenyans – like we had in 2002 – without a Raila candidature. As long as Raila insists to be on the ballot, we can as well forget about holding free and fair elections.