Before his stint as CEO of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) thrust him into the public eye, Communications Authority (CA) Director-General Ezra Chiloba was a high-flying executive boasting numerous career successes in the private sector and with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The stint at IEBC put a stain on his otherwise glittering CV. The holder of a Law degree from the University of Nairobi (UoN) and Msc. majoring in Programme Management from Oxford excelled in the world of policy, strategy and project management at organizations including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Oxfam and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR).
He joined IEBC in February 2015 and left under a cloud of endless accusations in October 2018. In 2017 it was Chiloba and IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati who faced the public during the Presidential elections whose results the Supreme Court nullified, as well as the court-ordered repeat poll boycotted by the Raila Odinga-led opposition.
In their historic nullification ruling, the first of its kind in Africa, the Court placed the blame squarely in the court of IEBC for conducting a deeply flawed election. “The discrepancies were widespread,” then Chief Justice David Maraga stated. “These discrepancies affected the integrity of the elections.”
Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu slammed IEBC’s handling of the process and the body’s “contemptuous disobedience” of a court order demanding that it grant access to its computer servers so they could be scrutinized.
Mwilu stated that the refusal led the court to “accept claims by the opposition that the computer system had been infiltrated and compromised and the data interfered with, or that the IEBC officials interfered with the system themselves.” The court also questioned why 10,000 forms from polling stations, each containing the documentation of several votes, were missing when the results were announced.
With less than a week left before Kenyans head to the polls yet again to elect a new President as well as legislators, Governors and Members of the County Assembly (MCAs), Chiloba finds himself in yet another position central to election management in Kenya.
Since being appointed Director-General of the Communications Authority (CA) in September 2021, Chiloba has shaken up the sector with crackdowns to free up frequencies among other initiatives to increase compliance with regulations. Now, however, he finds himself back in the polls hot-seat addressing multiple election-related issues.
The National Commission for Integration and Cohesion (NCIC) last week threatened to have Facebook suspended for failing to take action on hate speech being circulated on the platform in Kenya ahead of the polls. The NCIC has no power to suspend media platforms, but it can make recommendations to the Communications Authority (CA).
The government distanced itself from the NCIC Commissioner Danvas Makori’s pronouncements, with both Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru insisting that the internet would not be touched.
Chiloba will also be keen on the communication infrastructure that will facilitate the transmission of election results. Agents of leading presidential candidates had raised questions on the transmission of results from the reported 1,111 polling stations without 3G or 4G coverage.
The IEBC has procured satellite modems to enable transmission of results from the centres. The disclosure came when the Commission held a simulation of the Result Transmission System (RTS) as required by law at the Bomas of Kenya in June.
Media freedom will also be in focus. For many, memories are still fresh of the government’s dramatic and unexpected early 2018 shutdown of TV stations in the country broadcasting the mock swearing in of Raila Odinga as the ‘People’s President’ at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, before his handshake with Kenyatta eased tensions.
Odinga had refused to take part in the repeat polls unless his demands on electoral reforms were met – with the removal of Chiloba from his position at IEBC top of the list.
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