Ideas & Debate

Our key economic risk is not politicians, it’s IEBC

Wafula Chebukati

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati. FILE PHOTO | NMG

denniskabaara_img

Summary

  • In case anyone missed it, Kenyan elections are becoming more American than British.
  • Part of this is the result of inter-generational private action and experience; the result being that our children today “feel” the often brazen opportunity that the US “represents”, while the older among us prefer order like queuing and keeping a “stiff upper lip”.
  • All the campaign promises for the next presidency — 90 percent of which would be better realised via devolution — are high-sounding and rhetorical right now.

In case anyone missed it, Kenyan elections are becoming more American than British. Part of this is the result of inter-generational private action and experience; the result being that our children today “feel” the often brazen opportunity that the US “represents”, while the older among us prefer order like queuing and keeping a “stiff upper lip”.

All the campaign promises for the next presidency — 90 percent of which would be better realised via devolution — are high-sounding and rhetorical right now. We don’t get it.

The idea we are used to is that we look for super-manifestos sometime around calendar Q1/2 next year. That’s old. The new idea is US-style platforms, not UK-style “thud factor” manifestos. Lest we forget, Donald Trump got to rule the US without writing a single word down. He was ahead of Democratic time.

From a platform perspective, 2022 looks like it could, or should, be about positions, not promises.

In the ideal world that Kenya consistently strives for, platforms and positions are not just national, they are sub-national. Which suggests that the “Holy Grail” of our electoral politics might reside in the concept of political parties. It doesn’t look like it might happen in 2022.

What Kenya has right now is a scramble to create special purpose political vehicles, nay, ramshackles, as bargaining chips for a seat at the table. It is in these moments of noise that one wonders if we truly accept Western democracy.

So, our politics seeks American, behaves British, acts local. Young people prefer YouTube and TikTok.

Why would all of this interest private sector? For corporates, predictability. For MSMEs, sustainability. There is only so much in quiet campaign contributions that fixes the Sh50 trillion, not current Sh12 trillion, economy we should be at. Getting to that number requires electoral choice. Simply, who gets us to Sh50 trillion quickest? Oh, it’s Covid-19 times, so the words “inclusive” and “sustainable” count.

At a content level, it is instructive that nobody is talking about corruption beyond “jailing everybody”, “making systems work” or “delivering despite corruption”.

Transparency International has a lovely modern definition of corruption. To quote, “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. It is value-based in speaking to the inspiring moral construct of trust before the correct legal concept of criminality.

Now, let’s treat all I have just said as the demand-side perspective. We will make our choices in 2022, because we must. We will line up. We will vote. Hopefully, the next day, we get back to business. But this only happens if the supply-side works.

The key player on the supply side is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The purpose of the IEBC is to deliver free and fair elections. Add adjectives such as credible and transparent. It looks like a Dickensian body, driven by “Oliver Twist” demands every time it opens itself to the press.

So, by example, in its just-ended voter registration, it used its 100 percent voter registration budget to deliver a 25 percent result in new, mostly young, voters. This is not good enough.

On this, there will be arguments about voter apathy and the usual lazy “we don’t have enough budget” lamentations. These are dirges of a public body that doesn’t get that citizens own politicians, not the other way round. Voter-centric equals good budget 101.

That we have an anti-corruption-like Multi-Agency Team for 2022 should frighten any logical private investment, local and foreign. It is a statement on IEBC’s lack of electoral readiness, and public sector.

That there are problems in the procurement of technology bought before sounds like a national stealing shame. Here’s a thought I mentioned in 2017. The tendered specs for the Kenya Integrated Electoral Management System (KIEMS) did not have a conceivable technical response worldwide.

Nevertheless, having failed in its individual components (results transmission, anyone?), the answer is another tender. When private sector looks at the cost, rather than ease, of doing business, these “budgeted corruption” examples stares us in the face. You/we are overpaying for our elections.

Allow me to go back to the demand side. Electoral choice. On the supply side, IEBC entropy.

In 2022, we will make choices. But, as we sit here today, the question is not if we make the right choice, but if we have the right means to choose before we get back to work. Kenya can no longer afford electoral management incompetence, even before questions of electoral justice.

VOTER REGISTRATION

So, here’s a closing thought. We are struggling with voter registration; Huduma Namba mess notwithstanding (that is, if we had proper cradle to grave identification). We are importing ballot papers because we don’t trust each other. We are doing technology for the umpteenth time.

And that’s our supply-side response to what looks like a potentially exciting, and maybe divisive, demand-side election. I imagine that someone who isn’t waffling about GDP, but understands private sector as everything outside religion and the State, needs to stand up right now.

Let’s put this simply. Politicians are not our economic existential risk. I suspect IEBC might be.