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Boundary reviews a hot potato for IEBC



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As the electoral body grapples with the question of when to start the delicate and highly polarising exercise of redrawing boundaries, the political and administrative challenges hanging over the exercise means it will not be a walk in the park.

With the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) debate, the population-versus-area divide in resource allocation and the 2022 succession politics, realigning the electoral boundaries to meet the population quotas means the scale of the challenge is huge for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Besides, there is a budget issue, which the commission says already has been hampering training of staff, procurement of needed tools and conduct of a pilot boundary review.

In the budget policy statement that came out on Tuesday, IEBC has been allocated Sh421.2 million for redrawing boundaries, an amount Sh100 million less than what they required.

Two weeks ago, IEBC chairman Wafula Chebukati announced that the commission had completed the Boundaries Review Operations Plan (BROP) and that it expects to start implementing the plan, “subject to availability of a budget”.


But even before the plan could be implemented, there has been a public exchange between IEBC and the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) over the latter’s requests for technical boundaries information so that they could populate data for the political boundaries.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said IEBC has frustrated efforts to provide information on geopolitical units.

“I am once again appealing to the IEBC to cooperate and be part of this journey. By now, we should have concluded all the reports involving the 2019 census were it not for the frustration by the IEBC, which is yet to provide the required information on political units,” Mr Yatani said.

But in a rejoinder, Mr Chebukati said “boundaries delimitation is an express mandate of the commission”.

Such fights are just pointers to the hurdles the commission will have to surmount on its way to executing the mission of a Second Boundaries Review.

Reviewing boundaries is political in nature because it defines the geographical areas for rulers and their subjects, access and distribution of economic benefits.

It also, in some areas, defines the identities of a people owing to their historical attachments to certain geographical features of significance. Mr Murshid Mohamed, who served in the Interim Independent Boundaries Review Commission (IIBRC), says the internal IEBC challenges coupled with the external political factors mean the second review will be an uphill task.

“If you look at the situation today, we have an electoral body that has been discredited even more than the Kivuitu commission. It has been found by the highest court on the land that it did not run a credible election. The commission is under siege largely because of systemic problems, yet it will be the one to carry out the second review,” Mr Mohamed said.

The first review was for the most part done by IIBRC, with then Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) shielded away from the politics so that it could rebuild after the disbandment of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK).

“During the first review, there was a possibility of constitutional change. There is a possibility of constitutional change now through BBI,” Mr Mohamed said.

Article 89 of the constitution mandates the commission to review the names and boundaries of constituencies at intervals of not less than eight years and not more than 12 years.

“Further, the commission is mandated to review the number, names and boundaries of wards periodically. Such reviews must be completed at least one year before a General Election for the new boundaries to take effect. In the current scenario, review of constituencies and wards boundaries must be completed by July 2021,” said Mr Chebukati.

The current constituency and ward boundaries were gazetted on March 7, 2012, which means that at the earliest, IEBC will have to start the second review this month or February 2024 at the latest.
With the BBI, there has been a clamour, especially in densely populated regions of the country, to have the population take precedence over everything else. “One man, one vote, one shilling” has been the clarion call, especially for Mt Kenya political leaders in their input to the BBI.

For arid and semi-arid regions, the vastness of their constituencies takes precedence and thus creating a “population versus kilometre” divide in reviewing the boundaries.

The debate will likely feature again when IEBC gets down to the task of reviewing boundaries, and unlike before, it could be more heated and emotional given the claims that the current arrangement favours sparsely populated regions in terms of the National Government Constituency Development Fund.

Besides the resource distribution debates, the bigger headache for IEBC and which will also be highly political is what to do with the 26 protected constituencies that during the first review had not met the population quota.

The Constitution expressly provides for 290 constituencies and IEBC was to merge any of the 26 that still do not meet the population quota, they would have to create a new one, most likely in a different place or region.

Politically, it would be a tall order for the commission to do away with an existing constituency. The only option would be to balance out the population by redrawing ward boundaries or transferring a ward from a populous constituency to a less populous constituency to help both meet the population quotas.

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