I was working in the Prime Minister’s office in 2009 when IIEC (Interim Independent Electoral Commission), the forerunner to the IEBC, was being constituted.
One day, an ODM youth leader came to inform me, with very credible evidence, that a supporter of Raila Odinga was unfairly being bypassed in appointment for the commission’s chairmanship.
Lawyer Cecil Miller Jr had been recommended instead, and he was due to undergo vetting by Parliament’s Committee on Administration of Justice. I passed the information to Miguna Miguna, who was soon to become Raila’s Adviser for Coalition Affairs.
Miguna helped mobilise opposition to Miller’s candidature based on legitimate grounds, forcing the lawyer to withdraw from the race. In the process, Issack Hassan was appointed IIEC chairman.
When the matter had settled, I was informed by a lawyer with close contacts with some members of the committee on Justice and Legal Affairs that the MPs had made an unwritten understanding that a Luo should not be hired as a commissioner in IIEC, which under the new Constitution then under negotiation, was transformed into the IEBC.
A few months later, by which time I had left the PM’s office, the same youth leader called me to say that IIEC was about to appoint the chief executive officer and that the same Raila man who had been bypassed for chairmanship had topped in the interviews that were conducted by KPMG.
This time, I sought to meet the man, and thus came to know James Humphrey Oswago, a retired military lawyer and management consultant. Locked out Mr Oswago, fearing that he was unfairly being locked out of the job, had discussed his predicament with literally everyone he knew could intervene in his favour, including his MP, Nicholas Gumbo of Rarieda.
I, again, spoke with Miguna, who might already have been informed about the case by Gumbo. After a week of no movement, Oswago shared with me one element in his CV, which would prove vital to his getting the job.
He said that while in the military, he had been personal assistant to former Chief of General Staff Gen Mohamud Mohamed, and got along well with Somalis, whose culture he had come to appreciate. Therefore, if we could reach out to IIEC chairman Mr Hassan directly, he (Hassan) would probably get him the job.
Soon after Oswago landed the job, I heard he was having problems with commissioners, over procurement and other decisions. His bosses were later to appoint a deputy chief executive officer in a new structure to moderate his influence.
By the 2013 election, Oswago was, as I understood it, generally distrusted by the commissioners who took an active role in managing different aspects of the elections. In the recriminations following that controversial election, he appeared to disown the election results in public comments that further poisoned his relationship with his colleagues.
Incidentally, he and other senior staff, and not the commissioners, were the ones prosecuted for alleged crimes over irregular procurement which resulted in his removal from office. Unwritten rule But with his seeming pivot to the Raila side after the election amid investigation over corruption, the Hassan-led team, like the parliamentary committee in 2010, made an unwritten rule never to hire another senior Luo at the commission.
Instructively, when interviews for Oswago’s replacement were done, a Dickson Omondi emerged the best. But the commissioners bypassed him and appointed Ezra Chiloba, an ambitious 35-year-old lawyer with establishment connections. Mr Chiloba fitted well into the dominant school of thought in IEBC: That Raila’s politics made the commission’s work difficult.
As fate would have it, CORD’s push for the removal of the commissioners who had mishandled the 2013 election succeeded in 2016, forcing them to leave office. During a long transitional period when the commissioners remained technically in office while their successors were being recruited, Chiloba was allowed unfettered control over the secretariat.
By the time the new commissioners moved in, Chiloba was by and large the institution. And he was double lucky, thanks to the President’s criteria of picking those who had emerged as the weakest candidates during the recruitment.
The chairman, Wafula Chebukati, who had come ninth in the interviews, did not inspire much confidence. The first qualification for the IEBC chairman was experience in law equivalent to that required of Supreme Court justices.
Chebukati had this, but not the best support from among his colleagues. Many felt that Tukero ole Kina, who was number one in the shortlist handed to the President after Roselyne Odede’s exclusion, would have been a better pick.
Several CORD MPs declared intention to block Chebukati’s appointment in Parliament, but Raila nipped their opposition in the bud by announcing his support for the chairman, who at one time was an ODM parliamentary contender, just before the Motion was due in the House. CORD, of course, lacked the parliamentary numbers to block Jubilee appointments, and Raila, as he is wont to, was playing patently tribal politics by not standing in the way of a Luhyia getting a top job.
Copyright by Journalist JOHN ONYANDO, who served in the Opposition campaign, tells the inside story of Raila Odinga’s election machine in his book, Kenya: The Failed Quest for Electoral Justice.