October 23rd 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Murmurs about tribalism as Uhuru drops top IEBC candidate

"Mr Kenyatta’s handlers see Mr Chiloba as more of Deputy President William Ruto's man, having worked with his legal adviser, Korir Sing’oei," stated the report. The flipside of the logic should be that Mr Chebukati is a better bet for the president's allies.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comFriday, 30 Dec 2016 14:38 EAT

Outgoing IEBC chairman Issack Hassan declaring results in 2013.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has nominated candidates for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), who are expected to take the place of current office-bearers who bungled the 2013 elections. A statement from the State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu indicated that the president had settled on lawyer Wafula Chebukati for IEBC chairmanship while Ms Consolata Nkatha Bucha Maina, Mr Boya Molu, Ms Roselyne Kwamboka Akombe, Ambassador Paul Kibiwott Kurgat, Ms Margaret Wanjala Mwachanya and Mr Abdi Guliye are slated as commissioners.

The names of the nominees have been transmitted to Parliament ahead of vetting by the relevant committees and the whole house. However, even before the dust settles on the president's nominees, fears have been raised about the criteria he used to reject two suitably qualified candidates among those handed to him by the IEBC Selection Panel. For the chairmanship, the president rejected Mr Tukero ole Kina, who like Mr Chebukati practices law in Mombasa. It has emerged that Mr Chebukati is from Trans Nzoia County, same as IEBC's current CEO Ezra Chiloba, meaning that, according to norms governing regional representation in top public offices, the CEO would have to resign if the chairman is confirmed.

Some analysts have wondered whether Mr Chebukati had so special skills as to require such an ethnic-centred change in the IEBC leadership. Those alarmed by the new development loathe the prospect of Mr Chiloba being removed from his position on ethnic grounds rather than on the basis of performance or integrity that should underline the reforms at IEBC.

According to a report in the Nation newspaper, the selection process could have been compromised as the Selection Panel hurried to convey the list and move the process forward, in the hope that other agencies (in particular, Parliament) will have the time to vet the nominees thoroughly. The paper reports that "Some candidates went through with baggage, though it was agreed that the issues would be dealt with at another stage after they got overwhelming support from the panellists."

Even more alarmingly, the Nation's report indicates that the IEBC CEO is seen by the president's allies as being closer to deputy president William Ruto, hence his expected removal should the nominee chairman be confirmed would be in the president's interests. "Mr Kenyatta’s handlers see Mr Chiloba as more of Deputy President William Ruto's man, having worked with his legal adviser, Korir Sing’oei," stated the report; the flipside of the logic being that Mr Chebukati is a better bet for the president's allies.

In addition, in the nomination of commissioners, the president is alleged to have dropped the candidate who emerged top in the interviews by the Selection Panel, according to information circulating on social media whose authors claim to have seen the mark sheets for all the candidates. Such mark sheets are normally not made public, and the Kenya Free Press was unable to verify the veracity of the list, which, however, has been shared by some Nairobi lawyers and human rights activists.

According to the list, Mr Zephania Okeyo Auro was the leading candidate in the intreviews, followed by Ms Akombe, Mr Guliye, Mr Henry Kizito Okelo Nyongesa, Mr Samuel Kimeu, Ambassador Kurgat, Boya Molu, Ms Maina and Ms Mwanchanya in that order, with the latter two tying on eighth position. Accordingly, the president rejected the number one, four and five candidates.

Legally, the president is not bound by the ranking of the candidates recommended for nomination, since all are deemed to have satisfied the Panel's requirements. Still, candidates ranked first have normally been the appointing authority's first choice, unless the president has legitimate ground to believe that the candidate would not pass higher integrity or ethical tests. Appointment to the Central Bank board among others have followed this norm. There have, however, been exceptions as well, including, most recently, in the appointment of the Chief Justice David Maraga.

In the case of Mr Auro, a Luo, the perception has emerged that he was rejected on ethnic grounds, according to the debate on social media. Mr Nyongesa's nomination could have suffered on the basis that he and the nominated chairman come from the same region, while Mr Kimeu is a well-known civil society operative who has been deeply critical of corruptio in the Jubilee government.

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