Incompetence, not rigging, ruined Kenya polls

Preliminary findings from the Kriegler Commission of Inquiry indicate that last year’s General Election failed due to incompetence by the Electoral Commission of Kenya and not because of a diabolical plot to rig the elections.

Both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga were shortchanged in the vote tally.

From evidence adduced before the Commission, its becoming clear that the true winner of the election may never be known. Final tallies were misinterpreted, there was too much pressure from political parties while, on numerous instances, people were allowed to vote more than once. In strongholds of the two leading presidential candidates, police officers and election observers were removed from polling centres which went ahead to, “declare” results.

Voters who queued for hours will be dismayed to learn that elections officials simply made up the final figures. The Returning Officer for Changamwe Constituency confessed to announcing wrong results because he was tired and hadn’t slept for three days. But the worst revelation came from a Returning Officer from Kirinyaga Central who admitted before the Commission that the current Member of Parliament for the constituency had infact lost the election.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission of Kenya spent thousands of dollars buying 210 laptop computers to assist in the tallying of election results. The computers were never used.

The Independent Review Commission investigating the 2007 General Election is a result of peace talks brokered by former United Nations Secretary General, Koffi Annan, in March this year. The Peace talks ended political and ethnic clashes that erupted following the election. At least 1,000 people died between December 2007 and February 2008. Half a million were evicted from their homes.

The violence pitted supporters of Raila Odinga against those of Mwai Kibaki. The two men were the top contenders in December’s polls. Kenya’s Electoral Commission declared Kibaki the winner but Raila’s supporters rejected the results due to anomalies in the vote counting process.

The Koffi Annan peace talks led to the formation of Kenya’s giant coalition cabinet. Kibaki retained the presidency, while Raila got the new position of Prime Minister. The Independent Review Commission is expected to establishing why the polls failed. The Commission is headed by Justice Johann Kriegler from South Africa.

Previous evidence at the Kriegler Inquiry has revealed that thousands of electoral clerks were literally picked off the streets and sent to work without training. However, political parties were also to blame as each thought it would get an advantage by influencing the employment of clerks.

On its part, the Electoral Commission has blamed politicians for piling excessive pressure that disrupted its election procedures. Many constituencies had at least twenty candidates vying for the legislature and dozens for local authority seats in addition to at least ten presidential candidates. Since electoral law states that all party agents must assent to the final vote tally in each constituency, getting unanimous agreement among the many agents and observers proved impossible.

Electoral Commission Chairman, Samuel Kivuitu, has criticized political parties for presenting conflicting lists of candidates. This, according to Kivuitu, contributes to confusion during elections.

Since the disputed elections, Kivuitu and his team have resisted calls to resign, saying that their actions were lawful. Days after declaring President Kibaki as winner, Kivuitu was quoted as saying he did not really know who won the election.


Damning report on Kenya’s prisons

80% of Kenya’s prison guards have no homes, even as the Prisons Department failed to use millions of shillings it was given to build better housing and sanitation facilities, reveals a government report.

A prisons officer (right) guards inmates at a Kenyan jail. Picture by KBC.

A prisons officer (right) guards inmates at a Kenyan jail. Picture by KBC.

The report on Kenya’s prisons further recommends the dismissal and prosecution of top prisons officers for corruption, dereliction of duty and sexual harassment. Prisons officers routinely pay bribes in order to get promoted, while female officers cited demands for sex in exchange for promotions.

Lack of adequate housing for prison officers has caused a proliferation of shanties and slums within prison compounds. Current houses were intended for just 3,660 staff as compared to present staffing levels of over 17,000. Prison warders, forced to share a single room, use polythene sheets and cardboard to partition their houses. The lack of privacy has resulted in prostitution, drug abuse, alcoholism, family quarrels, social breakdown, theft and cross-interference in each others’ domestic affairs, says the report. In several correctional facilities, the committee found prison warders using bucket latrines.

Apart from the pathetic state of prison warders, the committee discovered massive irregularities in prison operations. Prison warders outside the capital complained of an absence of supervision by commanders. In the town of Machakos, private flats have been built within prison land, meaning that tenants are inadvertently getting state security. In other parts of the country, livestock belonging to senior officers mingle with those of the prisons, hence benefiting from government veterinary services.

The report was compiled by a probe committee appointed to look into Kenya’s jails following a prison warders mutiny several months ago. The committee, headed by former legislator Marsden Madoka, completed its work this week. The Madoka report has called for the prosecution of masterminds behind the warders’ strike, describing it as a threat to national security.

Prison warders went on strike in April protesting over poor pay and a hostile work environment. Many of the warders say they receive little supplies from their employer, forcing them to buy uniforms from the army and the police services. Warders have criticized the Kenyan government for neglecting them while placing too much emphasis on improving the welfare of prisoners. Since 2003, prisoners in Kenya have been supplied with new uniforms and gotten better accommodation in addition to comfortable buses. There are also opportunities for inmates who dropped out of school to get high school and other vocational certificates while in jail.

Kenya’s private sector has also faced criticism for making donations to inmates and organizing beauty pageants while doing little for prison warders.

Just last week, a mobile phone racket involving death-row inmates was uncovered in the country’s major prisons. Inmates used smuggled mobile phones to run an extortion and fraud racket targeting East, Central and Southern Africa. It is believed that demoralized warders turned a blind eye as inmates made millions of shillings from the scam.