Give Kenyans a free and fair election, without the fraud and bloodshed witnessed in 2007 and 2008. That was the call from visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
In two separate meetings at State House, Nairobi, and at the PM’s offices along Harambee Avenue, the US Government’s top diplomat pointed out that “too much is at stake” for Kenya to get it wrong again.
“The world will be watching Kenya,” Mrs Clinton said. “The country is currently viewed as the leader in the East Africa region. One (more) bad election can take away all that.”
Clinton emphasised that a free and fair poll would be the best incentive for attracting investors to Kenya in coming years. She, therefore, called on politicians to “reach out and speak with one voice” and show they are “patriots who care more about the nation of Kenya than themselves.”
She called on the political leadership to send strong signals that they are determined to overcome tribal divisions, not open them, and end hate speech during campaigns.
“Violence, whether political or terrorist, must not be tolerated,” said Clinton. President Kibaki re-affirmed the Government’s commitment to ensure a transparent, free and fair election next year. Raila echoed Kibaki’s sentiments stating much had changed since the bloody chaos that shattered the country in the wake of a disputed election at the end of 2007.
“We are determined to ensure that we don’t have a repeat of what happened in 2007,” the PM said.
The sentiments by the President and the Premier come in the wake of renewed concern as Kenya prepares for her first General Election on March 4, under the new Constitution. This follows the bungled tender for the acquisition of biometric voter registration equipment.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) inability to successfully handle the tendering process and the body’s eventual decision to revert to manual registration has elicited criticism and dented IEBC’s credibility.
The Executive stepped in and asked the independent organ to overturn its decision following a Cabinet sitting on Thursday. However, the decision immediately attracted an angry reaction from some members of civil society. Observers are waiting to see how IEBC handles the matter.
The interest the US Government has in the electoral process is not unexpected. Having played a lead role in 2008 to avert further bloodshed through efforts spearheaded by Clinton’s predecessor Condoleezza Rice, it is clear why Clinton may have sought assurance on next year’s polls.
“So much has happened since you last visited Kenya in 2009. What, however, stands out above all other developments is the promulgation of our new Constitution in August 2010,” said the President.
Besides the biometric voter registration standoff, the exact date for the next elections has for long been a highly protracted subject of political and legal dispute. But so far, two successive court rulings have settled on March 4, 2013, as the D-Day, in accordance with constitutional provisions.
Noting the “new Constitution offers a lot of hope for our country and we are all committed to its full implementation”, President Kibaki reassured Kenyans and the international community that the process was on track as all the necessary laws prescribed for the first two years have been passed.
At the PM’s offices, on Raila’s request, Clinton said the US is ready to work with Kenya to ensure a transparent and credible voter registration exercise. Support in this area would include mobilising funds and locating relevant expertise to help Kenya pull through the coming elections.
“There is expertise and experience out there that should be able to help Kenya. The US is ready to work with you to provide expertise, technical and financial support to ensure a credible process,” Clinton said.
Raila said he believes Kenya’s future could be bright if the next election passes off peacefully, adding that the Government is determined not to fail. The PM said the Government is committed to ensuring that election campaigns do not polarise the nation and that utterances of politicians do not incite communities against each other.
Separately, the earlier State House meeting incidentally involved Kibaki and Clinton who will both be retiring after the next poll elections in their respective countries.
Kibaki leaves office after the March polls having served a maximum two terms as per the constitutional requirement, while Hillary, wife to America’s 42nd President, Bill Clinton, has announced retirement from Government after this year’s elections in November.
The US Secretary of State also met the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, the Speaker of the National Assembly Kenneth Marende, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Ahmed Issack.
By Oscar Obonyo, The Standard