By Dr. David Oginde,
When Isaack Hassan, the chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), appeared on the JKL show last week, I could not help but admire him. His courage, calm and clarity of thought was simply commendable. This, especially in light of the pressure that has been on him and his commission over the last several months, could not be taken for granted. In the interview, Mr. Hassan made it abundantly clear that he and his fellow commissioners were not about to resign, not under any circumstances save for a political settlement that respects the Constitution.
The chairman advanced some very plausible arguments that cannot be easily ignored. Chief among them was the fact that the Constitution anticipated the very pressure and manipulation that they have been going through.
Measures were therefore taken to provide the Commissioners collectively and individually with a constitutional shield against any such schemes. In his view, therefore, to step down because of such compulsion would set a wrong precedent that could serve only to undermine the very spirit of the Constitution that we seek to uphold. Well put, and I concur.
Yet, as author Richelle Goodrich rightly said, “Reality is a background so painted over by our own perceptions that every eye sees the world differently.” In spite of the chairman’s good arguments, the background to the current pressure is so painted by strong perceptions that make the commission’s continued stay in office look like a fraud and mere intransigence. Whatever it is that has contributed to this discoloring, it is so deep that it will take many liters of paint to restore a clean background. Consequently, in spite of the recent clearance of the team by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament, the stains seem to endure.
What seems to be at play here is what is commonly known in sociology as the Thomas theorem; which simply says, “If men (people) define situations as real, then they are real in their consequences.” In other words, the way people interpret a situation will determine their course of action. They may be totally wrong in their analysis, and yet their actions will be affected by those subjective perceptions, no matter how absurd. Therefore, according to this theory, the critical issue is not whether there even is an objectively correct interpretation, but rather how the perception will influence consequent behavior.
It is perhaps for this reason that even the often sober groups like the religious and business communities have come out in strong support of an exit, albeit with soft landing. In their presentation to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on IEBC, the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, for example wrote: “We are alive to the fact that the presence and perception of free and fair elections are fundamental to the peace and stability of our young democracy. We are therefore convinced that the standard required of the Commissioners and Secretariat of the IEBC is that which was required of Caesar’s wife: the need to be beyond suspicion.”
On their part, the Multi-Sectoral Forum (MSF) meeting at Ufungamano, and bringing together the religious, business, and civil society groups, declared, “ We maintain that, considering the history of Kenya and the credibility crisis of the IEBC, even if they are not found culpable through an investigation, it is important for the current commissioners to give way,” The fear here seems to be that, whereas the negative perceptions of the IEBC may not be real, they could be real in their consequences-a gamble we may not want to take, considering our history at the polls.
Obviously, this places the Commissioners in a most awkward position. On the one hand, they must maintain their innocence and must defend their constitutional rights and duties. And yet they must at the same time be alive to the possible consequences of the subjective interpretations of people’s perceptions. This calls for serious introspection and objective considerations, for it a true test of their mettle in leadership. It is a most unfortunate situation to be in, but it is in such moments that leaders are made. Maybe Mr. Hassan and his team may love this other one from Richelle, “Perhaps, if you weren’t so busy regarding my shortcomings, you’d find that I do possess redeeming qualities, discreet as they may be.” Sadly, we are rather busy, and may only discover them after you are gone.