Society & Success

IEBC boss who stole the spotlight

Dr Roselyn Kwamboka Akombe. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Dr Roselyn Kwamboka Akombe. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The silence in the highly guarded main auditorium was deafening. A handful of party officials, supporters, government agents and foreign dignitaries followed proceedings keenly on the main dais.
Miles away, tens of millions of Kenyans and other citizens of the world were keenly glued to their TV sets following the proceedings. The anxiety across Kenya was palpable.

The place: Bomas Kenya in Nairobi. The occasion: announcement of the winner of the presidential race by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The expected announcement had brought activities in the country to a standstill.

Yet, throughout the sombre process, IEBC commissioner Roselyn Akombe employed humour not only as a device for encouraging those around her, but also as a way to prove that the IEBC was still in command of the situation.

After a hotly contested election that saw candidates exchange harsh words in a bid to outdo one another, few times would be more challenging for candidates and their supporters than during the announcement of the now disputed presidential results.

But speaking as the electoral body delivered its final verdict on the August 8 presidential poll, Dr Akombe noted that fellow official, IEBC CEO Ezra Chiloba, had topped Google search trends in Kenya as female admirers reportedly sought to find out more about him, including his marital status.

“I saw that a lot of the searches were his age…whether or not he is married…and I am really going to be disappointing a lot of young beautiful women out there. Too bad! Our CEO has been taken. He is happily married and he is not a Muslim,” she said amidst laughter from her fellow commissioners.

“All is not lost, though,” Dr Akombe added cheekily, “… “you can still make attempts to change him.”

Observers would later agree that the amusing anecdote by Dr Akombe had lightened a sombre moment for the nation.

“Commissioner Dr Akombe always knows when I am in trouble and comes to my aid,” quipped IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati during the exercise.

The light hearted-comment was taken by many as an admission of Dr Akombe’s abilities and team work at the crucial commission.

Born in 1976 in Nyamira County, Dr Akombe is among the many Kenyan women shattering the glass ceiling in leadership with her position at the helm of the country’s electoral body.

The other two women officials in the crucial body are former teacher Margaret Wanjala Mwachanya and Consolata Nkatha Bucha Maina (vice-chairperson).

The team chaired by Mr Chebukati includes six commissioners who together had to ensure credible elections and avoid a repeat of 2007 post-election violence where 1,133 people were killed and another 600,000 displaced. The jury is, however, still out on this.

“She is a polished leader as well as an effective communicator, who can easily use humour to buttress her arguments,” said a colleague of Dr Akombe’s attributes

Until her appointment, Dr Akombe worked as an under-secretary at the United Nations headquarters in New York, a position she says enabled her to gain experience in electoral practices around the world. She studied Education at the University of Nairobi before going to the US for further studies. She holds a Master of Science in global affairs and a PhD in the same subject, both from the Rutgers University.

Her strongest skill, she argued before the parliamentary committee, is diplomatic ability to resolve conflicts and that she had stayed abroad for over 15 years, enabling her to understand more about the needs of the diaspora when it comes to voting.

But the IEBC job meant she was taking a pay cut of up to 70 per cent.

But why would she do that? Dr Akombe explained that it was a sacrifice she took as a patriot willing to serve her country.

She took a sabbatical from the UN Department of Political Affairs, meaning she will not receive a penny from the UN during her term as a commissioner at the IEBC. She seemed ready for the spotlight, not shying away from television debates where she would explain the electoral process to Kenyans.

She said earlier she believes that there should be a system that links voter listing with registration of persons, but added that Kenya strongly needs continuous voter education.

On Wednesday, she was in the spotlight when she was “delayed” while on her way to the US with conflicting information later emerging around her travel plans. One account said she did not have clearance to travel to the US from the head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. Another account said that she had used her ordinary passport instead of her diplomatic one in checking out, prompting the demand that she be cleared by Mr Kinyua as a senior public servant.

The IEBC, however, said via Twitter on Wednesday that Dr Akombe was delayed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by officials who had since apologised. She is set to return from the US on Sunday.