NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 18 – He has previously been heralded as a ‘proven election manager’. Of course all that was before the 2007 General Elections. It is however undeniable that Samuel Mutua Kivuitu, the outgoing Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, has had a colourful career.
Perhaps it was best fuelled by his no-nonsense stance when it came to the job and most would agree Mr Kivuitu is not one to be cowed. Even in his Dar es Salaam University years, he challenged Tanzania’s then President. Julius Nyerere had announced plans to make Tanzania a one-party state. Mr Kivuitu’s reply went something like: ‘If you want to be a dictator then come and dictate to us.’ Daring, for a young foreigner at the very least.
An ambitious Kivuitu began dabbling in politics in 1961, still in Dar, as a student leader. He went ahead to take on a Law Degree at the University of London in 1964, an education that laid the foundation for his private firm Kivuitu and Company Advocates.
And he is well acquainted with the law having interacted with it as a State Counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers until 1966, and as a Resident Magistrate for the two years that followed. He even took a stab at active politics and was a one time Parklands Member of Parliament.
Mr Kivuitu has had 16 years of poll experience and made it all look like crazy fun. Perhaps it was, crazy that is.
He rose to national fame in 1992 when he was appointed to the Electoral Commission. Four years later, the position of Vice Chairman came calling. And there he served until 1997. December of that year saw his elevation to Chairman. By and large his edicts were accepted by Kenyans until 2007.
The threat by Kivuitu to announce the poll results from a battle ship was quite symbolic of what the ECK nerve centre had become. Parties shouting each other down, anti riot police – the situation was deteriorating by each vote call that put President Mwai Kibaki in line for a second term. His then challenger and now coalition mate Raila Odinga was to reject the poll results. Tension was high, Mr Odinga’s supporters furious.
But perhaps all their agitation gained some legitimacy in a January 2 announcement. The man bearing the constitutional mandate to tell Kenyans who the leader of the Republic was instead said he was not sure who really won the election!
The response was swift: Calls to have a vote recount, calls for an entirely new poll and calls to have Mr Kivutu removed from office.
The latter won this week, when Parliament flexed its muscle and literally voted out the long serving commissioner and his team and in their place created room for interim officials.
His conduct had been investigated at the highest level. The Independent Electoral Review Commission (IREC) created by Kenya’s mediation panel found Kivuitu ‘guilty as charged’.
Otherwise known as the Kreigler Report, it called for an overhaul of the ECK. That view was widely welcomed. In defence, Mr Kivuitu and his team argued the overhaul did not require them to be removed from their positions.
“The ECK takes the view that if IREC had wanted to propose the disbandment of the ECK, nothing would have been easier than to say so. Our understanding is that the IREC report favours and anticipates significant changes at the ECK which must be decided on the basis of informed debate and consultations,” their statement read in part.
But mobs, as it were, still bayed for blood. And on November 27, Cabinet resolved to disband the Electoral Commission despite a temporary order by the High Court blocking the commission’s break up.
A temporary body, the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) is to be created tasked with the responsibility of guiding the restructuring of the electoral body.
IIEC’s chairman will be nominated by a Parliamentary Select Committee and appointed by President Mwai Kibaki upon approval by Parliament.
The head of the new organ will be a Kenyan and a person who has held or is qualified to hold the office of a judge of the High Court. He will also be required to have "proven experience in electoral matters."
"Proven experience in electoral matters"… reads a little like the first sentence in this piece ey? Another Kivuitu perhaps?