Why last-ditch effort to broker poll deal fell apart

Failure by the Supreme Court to raise a quorum on Wednesday effectively halted a series of court cases seeking cancellation of today’s repeat presidential election.

Some of the cases were filed after the collapse of an initiative by diverse interest groups that had sought a last-ditch mediation to avert a political crisis.

The effort failed because the groups could not agree on a common position to present to President Uhuru Kenyatta and National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga.

VIOLENCE
A meeting last Saturday at the Muthaiga Country Club hosted by business people was the last in a series of quiet gatherings in the past two weeks involving a cross-section of interest groups, who were all keen to broker a ceasefire and prevent an eruption of ethnic and political violence over the contentious election.

There has been anxiety and tension since Mr Odinga pulled out of the race on the grounds that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had failed to sufficiently seal loopholes that allowed manipulation of the vote count.

The repeat election was called after the Supreme Court’s historic annulment of Mr Kenyatta’s victory on September 1, but his main rival, Mr Odinga, subsequently announced his withdrawal from the fresh poll and declared there would be no election.

DEFER ELECTION
The rising political temperatures have raised fears of bloodshed similar to the 2007-2008 post-election violence that nearly drove Kenya to civil war.

It was against this worrying background that the various groups were separately trying to break the impasse with the hope that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga would pay more attention to a united front representative of a wide cross-section of Kenyan society.

However, the gathering dubbed the multi-sectoral forum agreed to disengage soon after failing to agree on which of the two positions on the table was to be adopted.

One option was to place before President Kenyatta, Mr Odinga, and IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati a proposal to postpone the repeat election, pending a reform of the electoral management team to enable it to deliver free, fair and credible election within the Constitution as ordered by the Supreme Court in annulling the August 8 election.

COMMITTEE

The second option was to present to the same three principal players a proposal for the election to proceed unhindered, provided that the poll would be followed by an all-inclusive national dialogue to seek lasting solutions to the issues that divide Kenyans every electoral cycle.

The last meeting on Saturday was attended by representatives from each of the sector groups forming a technical committee tasked with reaching a common position and drafting proposals for presentation the same weekend or early this week to President Kenyatta, Mr Odinga and Mr Chebukati.

The multi-sectoral forum had also pencilled in a plenary meeting for Monday morning where the position adopted would be presented to the wider membership and then made public at a media briefing.

KEPSA
All that was put on hold after the collapse of the Saturday talks where the forum groups agreed to disengage on the common front and free each group to pursue its own path.

The closed-door meetings were convened with the agreement that deliberations would remain private and confidential until it was time to go public.

It is, therefore, not possible at this stage to identify the individual participants involved and the positions they fronted, but they represented key stakeholders from various sectors in Kenya.

The Muthaiga meeting, like a larger session the previous Wednesday at the Intercontinental Hotel, was hosted by the formal business sector under the umbrella of the influential Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa).

MEDIATORS
Other groups present included the labour movement, represented by affiliates of the two umbrella trade union groupings, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions and Trade Unions Congress; academia through the Universities Academic Staff Union; civil society represented by the Kenya Human Rights Commission and other campaign groups.

Others were religious organisations represented by the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the Evangelical Fellowship and the Inter-Faith Forum and media represented by the Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association and Kenya Editors Guild.

With plans to expand the forum to make space for women representatives, youth organisations and professional associations, participants were upbeat that the multi-sectoral forum was sufficiently representative and diverse enough to command the audience of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga and also catch the attention of Kenyans across the political divides.

ECONOMY
But it was also racing against time. The business lobby, which already runs the Mkenya Daima campaign, started reaching out to other sectors, notably religious groups, labour unions and media, in the first week of October as the economy continued taking a hit from the political stand-off.

But the sector was sent reeling when Mr Odinga announced his withdrawal from the repeat presidential election, forcing Kepsa to cancel a meeting with the media scheduled for October 12.

That happened to be the same day that civil society called an urgent meeting with other stakeholders to deliberate on the way forward.

The general conclusion at the Fairview Hotel gathering was that with the political leaders remaining obdurate, Kenya needed alternative leadership to drive dialogue and avert chaos.

IEBC
The meeting looked at the scenarios of an election on schedule boycotted by the Opposition and managed by a divided and ill-prepared IEBC and concluded that would be a recipe for chaos.

But it also found that enforcement of the Opposition clarion-call, “No Reforms, no Elections” through street protests and attempts at forcible disruption of the election would similarly lead to chaos.

The meeting agreed to reconvene the following week, October 18, with expanded participation of religious organisations, business sector, labour, academics and professionals.

The larger follow-up meeting at the Methodist Guest House examined in more detail the pros and cons of the October 26 poll.

TRUCE
It seemed to hold promise that there could be a meeting of minds between groups usually on opposite sides of the political spectrum, civil society on the one hand, which openly leans towards opposition and churches and business on the other side, which tend to echo the government position.

All concurred that Kenya could be headed for a dangerous period irrespective of the October 26 poll.

All agreed on the need for intervention to have President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga sign a truce, short-term measures to ensure the poll did not degenerate into violence, followed by a national conference to seek solutions to the political system and underlying grievances that come to the fore with every election.

BUSINESS
All also concurred that Kenya faced a political rather than legal or constitutional crisis; hence the priority on pushing President Kenya and Mr Odinga to meet, rather than resort to the courts.

Business leaders present seemed particularly impressed with a presentation by lawyer Wachira Maina tracing the origins of Kenya’s destructive ethnic political competition back to the colonial times, the Kenya-Uganda Railway and White settlement.

Indeed some indicated they were ready to drop the reflexive opposition to the push for cancellation of the election.

The next day, the business sector hosted a gathering at the Intercontinental Hotel, where with broad agreement on urgent need for intervention, the outline of a multi-sectoral forum was put in place and the Muthaiga meeting to firm out details put on the schedule.

REFORM PROCESS

It was at Muthaiga that despite earlier indications of a meeting of minds, it became evident that none would budge on the one sticking point – whether to seek postponement of the election and first fix the IEBC or whether to hold the poll on schedule, even without Mr Odinga, and then negotiate afterwards.

Although it had been agreed that all put aside their previously entrenched political positions and approach discussions with open minds, it became evident that none of the two co-convenors, civil society and the business sector, would budge.

Business was suggesting it might be willing to cede ground and agree on postponement of the election but only if there was a clear road map on a fresh electoral timetable and the reform process, as well as a political settlement that would calm the jittery business environment.

CIVIL SOCIETY
Trouble is the road map and the settlement was out of the hands of the forum as that would depend on the two political principals, the IEBC and the Supreme Court, if need be.

So no deal, and the business lobby, backed by the Church, stuck to the elections first positions, reforms and dialogue to follow, which basically has been the Jubilee position.

This would ensure President Kenyatta reclaims his primacy without getting entangled in a legal quagmire if the polls are not held within the stipulated time.

Civil society also would not budge on its push for a deal that would see the polls postponed until the IEBC — already rocked by the resignation of Commissioner Roselyne Akombe and Mr Chebukati’s confession that he couldn’t guarantee a free and fair election — was fixed.

CARETAKER GOVT
The position was supported by trade unions, academia and media representatives and likewise could have been seen to echo the Nasa position — including the Jubilee nightmare that delayed polls would force President Kenyatta to surrender power to a caretaker administration.

Another point of contention was a push by the business sector and the church leaders for the multi-sectoral forum to back a peace campaign, while civil society and media representatives insisted that such a drive was of little use unless underpinned by a strong fight for justice and resolution of underlying grievances.

With the initiative deadlocked, civil society rushed to the Supreme Court in the case filed by Mr Khelef Khalifa, Mr Samuel Mohochi and Mr Gacheke Gachihi.

Lobbyists also ramped up a social media campaign under the #WeThePeopleKE and #SayNoToShamElections hashtags.

He reiterated his call to Nasa supporters not to stage street demos on election day.

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