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5 things you should know about the Kenya protests 0

Six months ago, a landslide re-election victory for President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 seemed likely. Not any more.

Over the last couple of weeks, opposition parties in Kenya have staged public protests across the country demanding personnel changes at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenya’s electoral management body (EMB). This Monday’s demonstrations turned violent in some towns and cities, with at least four people reported dead at the hands of anti-riot police.

The organisers of the protests have vowed to keep at it every Monday until the current IEBC commissioners resign.

Here are the five things you should know about the protests:

1) A plurality of Kenyans have lost faith in the IEBC

In the run up to the 2013 election, several members of the commission (then known as IIEC) and its secretariat were implicated in what became known as the chickengate scandal involving a number of British companies. Representatives of these UK companies were found guilty in British courts, and court documents explicitly mentioned the Kenyans that were bribed by these individuals. Yet a number of those Kenyans named continue to remain in office — including the chairman of the commission, Issack Hassan. It is partially for this reason that a plurality of Kenyans (including politicians on both sides of the political divide) have lost faith in the IEBC.

2) Opposition politicians believe the IEBC favours Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jubilee Alliance

The opposition coalition CORD (in my view, erroneously) maintains that the IEBC was used to rig the 2013 election in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta. The opposition party KANU has recently accused the same body of rigging the Kericho senatorial by-election in favour of the Jubilee candidate. CORD has also argued that its failure to meet the threshold for a popular referendum (dubbed Okoa Kenya) —  whose main objective was a change in Kenya’s electoral laws — was a result of bias within the electoral commission.

CORD wants the IEBC reconstituted and the new commission to have proportional representation of parliamentary political parties. Although the constitution lays out the procedure for removing commissioners of an independent entity like the IEBC — namely, through Parliament — CORD is wary of this option due to its minority status in the legislature. It therefore initially pinned its hopes on a popular referendum. But when that failed it resorted to mass action in a bid to strategically influence any eventual institutional reform of the IEBC. In my view this outcome can partially be blamed on the failure of the Jubilee leadership of the National Assembly.

3) The Kenyatta administration is caught between a rock and a hard place

On the one hand, it is hard for the administration to defend an obviously tainted electoral commission. This would also go against its continued claim that the IEBC is an independent body. But at the same time, the administration needs a reform path that will not embolden the opposition.

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by Ken Opalo

Photo Credits: CapitalFMKenya

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