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US, UK threaten sanctions against inciters, frown on strong-arm tactics

Godec and Kitchens particularly warned that the US and Britain will not hesitate to take action against those who stir animosity through hate speech/CFM

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 2 – Foreign envoys Monday warned that the proposed amendments to the Elections Act and the Election Offences Act are ill-timed.

Led by US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec, the diplomats said – shortly after meeting the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) – that changes to election statutes, if any, can be discussed away from the election calendar.

“Wise reforms to an established electoral process take time. They require a thoughtful reflection and broad agreement from all parties. Well established international best practice is to avoid changes to electoral rules just prior to an election,” Godec told a press conference at the Bomas of Kenya after the meeting.

The diplomatic corps also took issue with hard-line positions adopted by political alignments in the repeat presidential election set for October 26 saying such demands risk undermining the poll agency’s preparedness for the poll.

“IEBC must act decisively and everyone needs to respect its independence. It would be impossible to re-make IEBC in a way that satisfies all political demands,” Godec noted in a joint statement backed by eleven other ambassadors who included Susie Kitchens (British Deputy High Commissioner) and Canada’s Sara Hradecky.

Godec and Kitchens particularly warned that the US and Britain will not hesitate to take action against those who stir animosity through hate speech, adding that their respective governments will take every action to tame them, including but not limited to placing travel bans.

Godec, however, challenged local authorities to decisively deal with individuals who stoke tension regardless of political inclinations.

“We would urge that in instances where people do engage in hate speech or violence that they are held accountable under the Kenyan law. If and when appropriate we will take steps under US law to hold people accountable and visa bans and other travel measure are one possibility,” he said.

“We’re also hoping for a respectful and peaceful poll. Anyone engaging in violence must be held accountable by Kenyan institutions and UK reserves the right to take appropriate action which may include refusing and revoking visas,” Kitchens added.

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The statement by diplomats comes at a time when IEBC has embarked on the process of reconfiguration of the Kenyan Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) kits, having awarded a French IT firm OT-Morpho – now IDEMIA – Sh 2.4 billion to ready over 40,000 KIEMS devices for the poll.

The Opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) was set to hold demonstrations on Monday demanding that the IEBC addresses their concerns on the management of the fresh poll, a similar protest organised last week having largely flopped after its leaders failed to join supporters.

Meanwhile, a parliamentary select committee has invited members of the public to submit memoranda on proposed amendments to the election laws.

Last week, NASA representatives walked out of a meeting convened by the IEBC refusing to discuss election preparedness with their Jubilee Party colleagues citing the introduction of the amendments.

Whereas NASA has insisted the amendments were introduced in bad faith and accused Jubilee of plotting to use its majority in both Houses of Parliament to ensure the changes sail through, Jubilee has challenged NASA to propose counter amendments saying the suggested reforms would cure ambiguities and address existing lacunas in election law.

Among proposed changes sponsored by National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale is the introduction of punitive measures against poll officials who fail to sign off on result declaration documents.

In attendance at the Monday meeting were IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati, Vice Chairperson Consolata Nkatha, Commissioners Roselyn Akombe and Paul Kurgat.

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