Kenya's problems over the past three weeks are not a matter of perception but I have no doubt that the Board of Directors of Brand Kenya and the "lobbyists" the Government of Kenya has expended great treasure on will find a way of massaging perceptions till up is up and pink is pink. Yet little will come of this massaging; the IEBC will be intransigent about the commissioner's resigning; the opposition will be intractable about; the ruling alliance will be implacable about its plans for the IEBC and the opposition. Perception-massaging companies are about to enjoy a bull run on the securities' market.
Kenyans are dying because of a disagreement between the ruling alliance and the opposition coalition over the perceived integrity or lack of integrity of the commissioners of the IEBC. It is a year to another general election in which an incumbent with a complicated history with the leader of the opposition seeks to defend his presidency from the leader of the opposition. In 1997, the president was pushed to agree to a raft of half-measures by the opposition and, while the general elections were marred by spectacular levels of violence, they did not spill over into the new year. In 2007, the incumbent president refused to bend, even a little, on reforms to the election board, and the rest is a blood-soaked history.
Twice an incumbent has been asked to bend a little by the opposition and the only time he refused, Kenya was set ablaze by bloodletting, the expulsion of whole populations from their homes, the destruction of billions of shillings in property and the humiliating spectre of senior politicians being asked unfriendly questions by foreign prosecutors in a foreign court in a foreign land. The incumbent, so far, will not bend. Instead, like his predecessors, he will unleash the might of his disciplined forces on his enemies and he will crush them, if it means shooting down every idiot who thinks that they can bully his government's officials into resigning. Brand Kenya and other "lobbyists" will be on hand to massage perceptions in London or Washington, D.C.
Yet the structural infirmities in the electoral system remain unresolved and the alleged corrupt tendencies of key officials remain unaddressed in full. The instinct is to deny that the vapid and vacuous opposition has a point at all and to treat the opposition as a treasonous body out to overthrow the government by unlawful and unconstitutional means. This seems to give free rein to the lunatic fringe of the ruling alliance an incentive to push the envelope to its most extreme edge when it comes to the deployment of armed members of the disciplined services and the loosening to ridiculous limits of their rules of engagement when it comes to political demonstrations. The result, as has been published and broadcast around the world, has been death and gross bodily harm at the hands of armed agents of the state.
How commissioners are appointed, the direct and indirect role the play in the management of elections, their authority to authorise large public outlays for equipment and tools and their role as witness of parties to elections petitions are questions that neither the ruling alliance nor the opposition coalition have canvassed in detail, merely relying on sloganeering to make their point. If talks are to take place between the political belligerents, the people of Kenya must insist that the terms of the talks must address these niggly issues. If they don't, but only that short-term reforms are discussed and adopted, it is almost certain that the elections will be violent, though perhaps brief, and the problem will have been postponed for another ruling party and another opposition party. That would be a mistake.