Monday, August 14, 2017

Hope springs eternal

What is the truth? Were the servers that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries relied on for the general election hacked, and if so, to what end? Did the torture and murder of the IEBC official in charge of information and communications technology -- including the information management system used in the general election -- have anything to do with the alleged hack?

The presidential candidate of the National Super Alliance claims that the IEBC servers were hacked with the intent of inflating the votes that the incumbent president received in the general election. Mr Odinga has not offered persuasive proof that the hack took place and that it was with the intention of inflating Mr Kenyatta's votes. The IEBC denies that the hack took place though it admits that there were attempts to hack the system. Journalists and news reporters have failed to independently confirm whether or not the hack took place.

We don't know for sure what the truth is. We can't trust journalists and media reporters because we are afraid that they have taken partisan positions that remain unsubstantiated by any facts. We can't trust what we are reading on social media platforms such as facebook or twitter because we don't know whether or not those advancing particular stories are so-called "bots" or are being manipulated by mysterious organisations like Cambridge Analytica that is feared to have powers that have affected other elections in other countries. We can't trust government officials because many of them seem to have taken hardline political positions -- mostly against the National Super Alliance and its presidential candidate -- that militate against the public service's supposed political neutrality.

This trust-deficit has tragic consequences. Over the weekend, the police have used deadly force. The police claim that they had no choice because the people it killed were in the process of committing crimes and when confronted by the police, chose to attack rather than be arrested. What many Kenyans wish to know is how many have been killed by the police. Politicians and activists aligned with the National Super Alliance claim that dozens have been killed. The police claim that fewer than ten people have been killed. Journalists and reporters have not reported a trusted count of how many have been killed by police. Pro- and anti-government social media accounts have published widely divergent claims of the total number of people killed by police. It is tragic that Kenyans have been killed and the circumstances of their deaths -- and the number of the dead -- remain unknown.

Our elections and everything connected to them are now shrouded in mystery. Since the devastating debacle of the 2007 general election, few Kenyans have trusted the outcome of elections, few Kenyans have trusted the claims advance by both sides of the elections, and few Kenyans have trusted the news-reporting on and about the elections. We have come to accept that the elections have been flawed without fully understanding what the flaws are and what could be done to fix them. This as contributed to the sense of being under siege every time we have held general elections, with both sides afraid for their lives and, therefor, taking precautions such as leaving their homes in "hot spots" for the safety and security of their "home areas". Because of this, more and more Kenyans distrust each other when it comes to politics and this, sooner or later, will translate to distrust over many public policy questions. This is no way to govern or be governed.

Yet again we are faced with an opportunity to reckon with our public policy choices. We can choose to hold a post-mortem of the 2017 general election and examine everything that pubic institutions did during the election. We can choose to examine the mechanics of political parties and political alliances and how they can be improved to give voters and party members a greater voice in whom gets nominated to fight an election. We can examine the interference of non-Kenyan organisations and foreign powers, and what we can do to reduce their influence or effect on our electoral process. We can finally have a full accounting of the sources of campaign funds and what those funds are intended to accomplish. Hope springs eternal that Kenyans are prepared to have this discourse and to have it well before the next general election.

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