Why media is central to unfolding at IEBC

By Levi Obonyo
Friday, June 18th, 2021 00:00 | 3 mins read
Wafula Chebukati. Photo/File

There are interesting activities going on at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). 

A lot of attention is on the current process of filling the vacant positions left when four former commissioners resigned in a huff.

Slightly under 700 people applied for the positions and the interview panel has shortlisted 36 individuals to fight it out for the slots.

The public is going to pay a lot of attention to the recruitment process. There will be interest in gender and regional balance of the successful candidates. But some will be looking at the political leaning of the candidates.

However, the chairman of the Commission, Wafula Chebukati, has been making some news on his own.

His announcement this week, regarding servers that the IEBC is going to keep in the coming elections, and who is going to be allowed to access them, is important.

Dispute around the location and access to servers was at the centre of the 2007, 2013 and the last General Election.

It became a running joke as to the location of the servers in France and who could access them.

The importance of Chebukati’s announcement is that he is giving a commitment that journalists will be allowed access to this database and be allowed to report the results from the locations where the tallying will have been conducted.

The announcement gives journalists a huge responsibility to play a critical role in the electoral process. The question is whether journalists will be ready to play this role. 

The elections of 2007 showcased the mucky sea that is Kenyan elections, and how media can be sucked into it.

Media houses had been tallying the results when at some point they uniformly reported that their own systems including servers had collapsed.

It is still hard to understand how the systems in all the media houses in Kenya behaved uniformly by collapsing one after the other, at the very critical moment of tallying and relaying the results. 

The matter was never resolved whether it was a plan by media houses or a systems failure of technology.

What Chebukati is thus saying is to give this system a chance again,a to test if it would work. A lot has changed since 2007 and the media landscape is different. 

The sector has shrunk following massive layoffs and reduced expenditure. What is the capacity of media today compared to 2007?

The kind of reporting that Chebukati is referring to, would of course require that journalists have data reporting skills; that they are able to understand numbers and what those numbers mean.  

Secondly, they would be required to have some understanding of technology and how systems work, to enable them have some basic knowledge of the back end of the system and appreciate the processes going on if they are to report with knowledge.

But there is something else that this would require,it is the soft skill of honesty, patience and operating above ethnic loyalty to report accurately on the results. 

The path that IEBC is embarking on will require huge investment by media houses and the IEBC, to enable their team of reporters be ready to cover the polls.

The challenge is to mobilise resources for the assignment of this magnitude. Most of the reporters with experience from 2007, have since either retired or moved on, following the massive restructuring exercises that have taken place since then.

 Even then, those that may have experience from the past era must also be disabused from the untidiness of the 2007 systematic collapsing of the machines.

Yet, if this is successfully done, it would bring the much needed confidence in our electoral systems and even to the Kenyan media.

The media have let Kenyans down in the past, with such warning ahead of time, they ought to do better and restore some of that confidence. —The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

Levi Obonyo

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