IFES to webcast Friday workshop on Kenya Diaspora voting

The live event will take place at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems headquarters in Washington from 10:00am to 2:00pm Eastern Daylight Time on Friday, November 2 (5:00pm to 9:00pm Nairobi):
A mandate of the newly appointed Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of Kenya is to enable diaspora voting. With this, there is immense pressure from political parties and diaspora groups to fully enable out-of-country voting during the March 2013 elections. The IEBC has enacted a policy that will allow Kenyan voters to register and vote at 47 embassies worldwide.
However, this policy may not completely satisfy the demands for out-of-country voting accessibility.
To promote better understanding of this issue among officials and leaders of the Kenyan diaspora, IFES will broadcast a workshop via live webcast to describe the complexities surrounding the out-of-country voting process.
Invited experts will examine key topics, including:
  • Implementation of out-of-country voting
  • Biometric voter registration and its significance in Kenya’s elections
  • Costs and benefits of Internet voting
  • Registration and voting procedures for members of the Kenyan diaspora
Featured speakers will include:
  • Ahmed Issack Hassan, Chairman, IEBC
  • Peter Erben, Senior Global Electoral Adviser and Chief of Party in Indonesia, IFES
  • J. Alex Halderman, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Michigan
Moderated by Mike Yard, Chief of Party in Kenya, IFES
This event will be webcast.
Here is the link for the IFES Multimedia page for the webcast.


Kenya’s voter registration again delayed . . . [with updates]

UPDATED 10/24: IEBC Chairman Hassan spoke to the press Wednesday afternoon Nairobi time.  Bottom line is that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the Government will follow through with a commitment to make a remaining authorization of the outstanding 60% due for the first major shipment of the Biometric Voter Registration Kits. If this happens so that the kits arrive by Tuesday, the IEBC can conduct the voter registration in November.  Any further delay would have “grave consequences” rippling through the election preparations–thus jeopardizing the March 4 date.

UPDATED 10/23:  New development from Capital FM:

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 23 – The government has assured that the next General Election will be held on schedule after the Treasury and the Attorney General approved the financing agreement for Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits.

Finance Minister Njeru Githae on Tuesday morning said the delay in approval of the financing agreement was due to its late arrival from France.

He said that neither the Treasury nor the Attorney General was to blame for the setback since the agreement was only received on Monday.

Original post:

Nevermind my previous post about biometric voter registration in Kenya that was to have started almost two weeks ago.  The latest glitch, as reported in The Nation, is the need for the Attorney General’s office to approve a letter of credit so the French manufacturer of the BVR kits will ship them:

According to deadlines set by IEBC in August, voter registration was supposed to be carried out in September and October. However, the exercise was now set to start on November 14.

The commission has been forced to amend its timelines several times over the past three months due to the BVR crisis.

With only 133 days left to the March 4 election, it will take 60 days to complete a proper voter listing programme involving 18 million Kenyans with 30 days being set aside for the actual registration and another 30 days for voter inspection.

The frustrated elections boss revealed that he met Prof Muigai at the sidelines of the Mashujaa Day celebrations on Saturday and pleaded with him to save the country by signing the document.

This is the sort of problem or issue that is going to be testing everyone’s patience for the duration of the process of electing a new government.

Is it necessary and legitimate for questions to be raised in granting legal approval for the letter of credit?  Hard to say;  that some players in the process openly desire to delay the election, in the context of the controversial nature of the Attorney General’s appointment in the first place, means that public and private skepticism are inevitable.


Kenya to begin biometric voter registration Oct. 11

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announced today that it will open a thirty-day voter registration period on October 11. iEBC Chairman Hassan said the Kenyan government was ready to sign the contract for biometric voter registration kits and an initial shipment would be available to begin by that date. The IEBC expects to register roughly 18 million voters before the March 4 election date. Here is the story from CapitalFM.


Key current events and questions in the Kenyan Presidential election

Waiting for the Hurricane Isaac to visit us here on the Gulf Coast I have been drafting a long post/essay on the potential impact on the Kenyan election of the outcome of the U.S. elections and corresponding with a friend who is getting ready to go to Kenya.

Before polishing that up, I wanted to catch up on the Kenyan presidential race itself.

Under the new Constitution we are seeing the first Kenyan election under a “run-off for majority” rather than a “first past the post” system. Under this new system, any candidate who dominates the Kikuyu vote is almost guaranteed a spot in a run-off as long as there is more than one other candidate of any significance at all in the first round.

For months the polls have continued to reflect a race dominated by Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. Odinga has a significant lead but less than an outright majority and Kenyatta has a large margin for second place, or the spot in a runoff as the prevailing Kikuyu, anti-Odinga or non-Luo alternative. Among claimants to be the choice of the Kikuyu/Central Province “old guard” establishment, Kenyatta alone shows strongly in the public opinion polls. In this regard the race has remained relatively stable for weeks.

Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka both have significant support, but do not rival Uhuru in the polling. MP William Ruto running as a fellow ICC “victim” and champion of Kalenjin Rift Valley interests is not getting much national traction and none of the alternative Kikuyu candidates has shown themselves as a threat in the polls so far.

Details of “parties” and alliances and alignments shift weekly if not daily, but the main specific potential “game changer” of the past few months seems to have remained the untimely death in a helicopter crash of Internal Security Minister George Saitoti. Saitoti, on one hand, could be seen as one more candidate among the pack with Kalonzo and Mudavadi–I would see him, however, as a much stronger contender against Uhuru specifically. If I had been advising Uhuru’s campaign (for the record I don’t know who he is using in this capacity outside Kenya this time) I would have been much more focused on Saitoti than the others.

Saitoti was a Kikuyu-speaker of mixed ethnicity representing a near-Nairobi Rift Valley district, with a strong background in the Moi administration, within which he had gotten rich. As Kibaki‘s Internal Security Minister he had a more substantive portfolio and was more of an insider than the Vice President. Kalonzo had run separately in 2007 under the ODM-Kenya splinter and did not publicly endorse Kibaki until after the election. He provided crucial service in the pinch to the Kibaki campaign in that role, but assuming the truth to what then-MP and Kalonzo associate Joe Khamisi wrote in his book The Politics of Betrayal–that Kalonzo cut a pre-election deal with Kibaki through Stanley Murage–it’s hard to see that he would have earned himself a lot of respect. And of course Mudavadi had been against Kibaki (and thus for Uhuru with Moi) in 2002, and then been a member of Raila’s Pentagon against Kibaki in 2007. So its difficult to see that simply abandoning Raila and ODM in 2012 would be enough to give Mudavadi a serious claim on Kibaki’s affections to the point of the President throwing him Uhuru’s base with Uhuru still in the race.

Saitoti, running under the same PNU (“Party of National Unity“) label under which Kibaki claimed re-election, seems to me to have been in a different category of potential even if he had not yet moved out in the polls. Another interesting factor for Saitoti would have been his role as Minister of Internal Security in dealing with the major outside players such as the Western powers and Museveni. PNU was a bit illusive in 2007 as some hybrid of “party”, “coalition” and “committee to re-elect the president”, but nonetheless elected a section of MPs in its own name. With Saitoti dead there have been purported “PNU” endorsements of Uhuru already.

Obviously the prospect of electing a new president of Kenya on the eve of his trial for crimes against humanity by the ICC is disturbing/offensive to Kenya’s ally the United States and the European powers and many of Kenya’s other friends. An article in the Daily Nation yesterday highlights the seemingly difficult spot that Kibaki is in with the competing claims to his support in the context of the ICC indictment against Uhuru.

Kibaki plays his cards close and I doubt most of us will ever know much of what he ends up doing in regard to the 2013 election. I would encourage interested observers to make sure to remember that the Kenyan administration hosted Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir–under indictment from the ICC and with well-established pariah status to celebrate the new Kenyan Constitution and inaugurate the “new era” two years ago.

As for Kalonzo and Mudavadi, assuming that Uhuru stays in the race they are potentially in a position of serving as important “placeholders” to assure Uhuru a spot in a run-off against Raila. But then in the run-off, would they stay lock-step in the anti-Raila position, or could they be peeled away? Obviously it would be very hard personally for Kalonzo to support Raila after 2007 but Mudavadi has supported Raila once. Would their first round voters follow them in a run-off regardless?

And of course the biggest question of all. The stakes are higher in the presidential race than in 2007. Will the IEBC come through with a credibly complete and accurate count of the votes and what will happen if not?

Update on Kenya’s Biometric Voter Registration

It seems to be “sorted” that the Canadian government will handle the purchase, funded as a “concessionary loan” of KSh 4.6M to the Government of Kenya, relieving the IEBC of the budgeted amount of KSh 3.9M for the procurement.  Here are stories from the Standard and the Star.

Polling Centre at Dagoretti, Nairobi

[Updated Aug. 9] Another change–Kenyan Government will obtain Biometric Voter Registration system directly from Canada for IEBC

Aug. 9 Update:  It still is not entirely clear what will happen on the procurement of the Biometric Voter Registration kits going forward, and the original failure of the procurement process will continue to be investigated and debated in Parliament and elsewhere.  The Star today has a story some detailed discussion of the Code, Inc., the Canadian company that was the incumbent provider for the pilot program selected under the old Interim Independent Electoral Commission and appears to be set to remain in place through a transaction between the Kenyan and Canadian governments.


The Government of Kenya in a meeting headed by President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga has addressed serious public and international concerns caused by the cancellation of the BVR effort by the IEBC, reports the Daily Nation:

The government on Monday stepped in to buy biometric equipment for the registration of voters.

To protect the credibility of the election and build public confidence, a top-level crisis meeting agreed that the kit will be bought from Canada on a government-to-government basis.

The Elections Act will be amended to make room for registration of 18 million voters, an exercise that has been delayed by the failure of the deeply divided Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to award the Sh3.9 billion tender for the purchase of biometric voter registration kits.

The voter registration deadline will also be extended from 90 days prior to the election to 45 days before the election to allow for implementation of the new system.

Kenyan IEBC drops biometric voter registration after controversy over tender–Updated

UPDATE 1 Aug. 20:30GMT  Press coverage indicates a major credibility challenge for the IEBC over the voter registration issue.  Both the Daily Nation and the Standard lead stories report that the failure of the tender for the biometric registration system is being attributed in part to “boardroom wars” between the Commission and its Chairman Hassan on the one hand, and the Secretariat led by Chief Executive James Oswago.

The Standard reports that Speaker Kenneth Marende has ordered a Parliamentary inquiry into the failed tender which is to report back in 14 days.  

See also: Daily Nation, “Fraud fears as IEBC turns to old poll kit”.

Kenya falls back to manual electoral register  — Daily Nation. After civil society groups and others raised concerns about the evaluation of tenders and the qualifications of the vendor selected, the IEBC has acted quickly to move on with critical election preparations. Maintaining public confidence is crucial, as is the schedule, with some members of Parliament suggesting slipping the election date. This–sticking with the manual registration system that worked for the constitutional referendum–seems the safest course.

How serious is Kenya’s IEBC about strict enforcement and prosecution of election law violations?

From a Daily Nation headline story on fines and jail time for election law violators:

A candidate who uses public wealth in political campaigns will be fined Sh10 million or jailed for six years.

If Mr Miguna Miguna were to repeat his feat of wrestling Chepalungu MP Isaac Rutto to the ground at the main tallying centre, he would be liable to a Sh1 million fine or a jail term of five years.

Even a thirsty voter who accepts a bottle of water or soda from a political party representative could find himself or herself on the wrong side of the law.

These are among a wide range of offences contained in the Elections Act to curb vote rigging, hooliganism and bribery as Kenyans head to the polls scheduled for March 4, 2013.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) bosses have promised to enforce the law to the letter and appealed to all politicians and voters to follow it.

“We have to learn from the lessons of 2007/08. . . .”

. . . .

Commission chief executive James Oswago said the laws would be enforced following the creation of the departments of prosecution and investigations at the IEBC.

“We are in a position to investigate offences and prosecute cases without referring to any other authority,” he said.

Offences range from falsifying and buying voters cards, double registration, conduct at polling stations, secrecy of commission staff, undue influence, bribery, use of violence, use of public resources and use of national security organs to gain advantage.

Obviously this would be revolutionary if the IEBC could pull it off. This would create a whole new kind of campaign in Kenya–suddenly, this year. See Vote Buying and Women Candidates in Kenya.

While I am certainly all for the concept, there is also an important lesson in the saying “you have to crawl before you can walk”.  For one thing, enforcement authority in the Electoral Commission is a new thing and the capacity has to be created from scratch with the campaign already ongoing.  And the culture of politics in Kenya certainly won’t change overnight.  To date, there have been no prosecutions of even the most egregious election offenses at the highest levels from the last election, much less the rampant “garden variety” vote buying.  Impunity has a fifty-year history.

Just as with implementation of the latest technologies, the new IEBC needs to be careful about realism and resources–and maintaining its credibility by not over-promising while trying to do more than is possible in its inaugural effort.  A lot of sober judgment is going to be required to prioritize and focus enforcement in an evenhanded way that weeds out the worst offenses and ends up generating real progress that Kenyans can see and “buy”.

Observations from the IFES Kenyan Election Event in Washington

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has the video up from their program last week in Washington with Kenyan IEBC Chairman Ahmed Issack Hassan and IFES Country Director Michael Yard.

I found the program very useful and want to thank IFES for making this available.  With so many things going on right now in the region I have been hearing that people in Washington have not begun an intense focus on the Kenyan election preparation at this point, and I hope that this program will serve as a useful reminder of the huge scope of work to be accomplished in a relatively short period of time if Kenya is to be ready for a credible election process.

Michael Yard did a good job of emphasizing the magnitude of the task.  It has been widely recognized through the report of the Kreigler Commission and otherwise that the voter registration process was wholly inadequate in the last election (as reflected in Undersecretary of State Maria Otero‘s comment that “we recognize that over 2 million dead people voted”).    The IEBC says that they intend to implement a biometric registration system, which will obviously be a major undertaking.

In 2007 the number of polling stations was dramatically expanded to more than 20,000.  The domestic election monitoring program which had proven successful in 2002 was unfortunately not funded to make a commensurate increase and a high percentage of the polling stations were thus left without outside observers.  Nonetheless, with the increased demands placed on the voting system from the addition of voting for the new senate and the devolved local governments under the new constitution, the IEBC feels that they need to further reduce the number of voters at each polling station.  Their plans thus call for more than 40,000 polling stations.  This will place huge demands on both observation efforts and on the parties in deploying agents.

Hassan comes across as a “straight shooting” but soft spoken attorney, in contrast to the sometimes irascible Kivuitu from the 2007 ECK, and everyone is encouraged by the competitive screening and selection process for the new IEBC.  Nonetheless, we know now from hard experience that the pressures placed on the commissioners can be huge and it is crucial that active and transparent oversight by the donors supporting the election process be maintained throughout the effort to design and build a new national voting system.

It should also be noted that Parliament has not yet completed all of the necessary implementing legislation, including campaign finance laws, and most especially that the mechanism to handle the constitutional commitment to minimum representation of women in Parliament has not been resolved.  Of the major factors identified in the post-election settlement after the disaster in 2007, land reform has essentially been set aside and we can expect the new election to take place with IDPs outstanding from 2007-08, as well as from previous elections.  The cost of living, especially for food staples is more of a challenge than last time, and there has been no apparent counter to the reported flow of small arms into the potential Kenyan conflict zones following 2008.

Reuters: IEBC touts ICT solutions for Kenya vote tally

Ahmed Hassan is making the rounds to explain the new Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission’s plans for a better tallying and reporting process in the upcoming election.  From Reuters today, under the headline “ICC trials main threat to Kenyan polls”, here is the pitch:

Speaking at the Reuters Africa Investment Summit, Hassan said judicial and electoral reforms included in a new constitution adopted in 2010 and new technology should deliver a fair election that would avoid the cycle of bloodletting.

Under a new system, the tally of ballots for a presidential candidate, cast at thousands of polling stations across the country of about 40 million, will be transmitted electronically to a national counting centre and broadcast live on television.

Previous elections have suffered from claims that votes were interfered with while being transported from polling stations to regional tallying centres.

The new system, which cost $1 million to install, uses the 3G data network used by mobile phone companies and was first tried in a 2010 referendum to ratify the constitution.

Kenya will also switch to an electronic register of voters after ballot boxes at the 2007 elections were found to contain the votes of people who had not registered and even some who were dead.

“Technology can enhance confidence in the results. We are the first country in Africa to use the transmission of ballots counted real-time, live,” said Hassan, who won praise for using technology for the referendum, earning the 42-year-old lawyer the president and parliament’s nod for the IEBC job.


I am looking forward to attending an event (Kenya Elections:  Building a Peaceful, Credible Process) at the International Foundation of Electoral Systems tomorrow with the IEBC and IFES leadership to hear more.

(h/t Texas in Africa)