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Fears for a safe 2022 election in Kenya as investigation paints murky picture of EC, Idemia

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Fears for a safe 2022 election in Kenya as investigation paints murky picture of EC, Idemia

An investigation into the events surrounding recent elections in Kenya provides a bleak outlook for this August’s general election. More details emerge on the souring of the relationship between Kenya and Idemia, the provider of biometric voting equipment and data holder for the Kenyan electorate, along with alleged incompetence on the part of the electoral commission.

Originally brought in to restore Kenyans’ faith in elections, biometrics could mire yet another election, according to the investigation.

Lighthouse Reports (‘Biometrics and the Enslavement of African Elections’), Africa Uncensored (‘Kenya’s 2022 Election: Is the Past a Prelude?’) and Le Monde (‘Inquiry into Failures of Electoral Biometrics in Kenya’) collaborated to investigate the details of the 2013 and 2017 elections, the latter being particularly fraught, as well as bringing the story to the present, three months out from the third biometric general election, already looking problematic.

In a nutshell, and as Biometric Update has reported over the years, ahead of the 2013 elections, the country’s first which involved biometrics, a tender was held which Idemia (then Safran Identity and Security) won. Idemia supplied equipment used to register more than 14 million Kenyans and despite a problematic election, Idemia “came out unscathed and holding the data of 14.3 million Kenyan voters” (Africa Uncensored) even though the election result was disputed by the Supreme Court.

In the run up to 2017, Kenya bought fresh equipment from Idemia (still Safran at this point), which still held the electorate’s data. This cost almost US$40 million. The system is intended to electronically transmit the results of each polling station to Nairobi. On polling day in 2017, the system failed, and opposition leader disputed the results. The Supreme Court annulled the election, which was rerun 60 days later.

The National Assembly recommended a ten-year ban on contracts with Idemia. The High Court overturned this and electoral commission announced it would once again use Idemia kit for 2022 and was paying Idemia for updates as of 2020.

Details have emerged as for as far back as 2013. The French Embassy in Nairobi used its influence to ensure Idemia was picked, despite being ranked second, alleges Africa Uncensored.

Suggesting something untoward within the electoral commission, “a member of the 2017 commission commented that commissioners were being ‘managed’ into selecting Safran as the vendor the IEBC [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission] would procure directly from,” reports Africa Uncensored.

Idemia firmly rejects any allegations of wrongdoing.

New threats to a peaceful election

The path to the 2022 election has been fraught. The news that Idemia would once again supply equipment led to heavy criticism.

The new investigation shows how voter registration was successful, but the IEBC was then unable to port voter details onto the tablets or have full access to the 2017 register. The new supplier of the Kenyan Integrated Election Management System is Smartmatic (which lost the 2013 tender to Safran) and Idemia allegedly declined to cooperate, claiming the IEBC owed it money for accessing the data.

Idemia’s claim for payment from the IEBC is among others for the 2017 election. “IEBC CEO Marjan Hussein Marjan now says that the IEBC and Smartmatic now have full access to Kenya’s voter register and use of the Morpho Tablets, but says that out of Idemia’s full claim, only 86 million shillings (705,557 Euro) is payable [of the 139-million-shilling claim],” reports Africa Uncensored.

“The claim itself, and the fact that Idemia could, for a time, withhold Kenyan citizens’ data raises very serious questions about the IEBC’s contract with Idemia, a contract that has never been made public.”

The three reports detail allegations of mismanagement on the part of the electoral commission and the dangers of errors on any part leading to negative publicity, and triggering fake news in a tense setting ahead of the next election.

“As the global leader in Identity technologies, Idemia operates from over 180 countries and has a longstanding presence in Africa including Kenya,” a representative of Idemia told Biometric Update in an email responding to the reports.

“The facts on this case have been made public since 2017. No new facts have emerged since then. In 2020, The High Court decision confirmed IDEMIA has not violated any law in Kenya and its ability to continue its lawful operations in Kenya.

“Idemia and all its employees are proud to have been able to successfully fulfill their engagements to support Kenyan democracy, and humbly reaffirm today how positively it can consider the outcome of both 2017 elections, as it has been publicly stated by the International Community observers (UE, Carter Center, etc.). The Software Development Kit (SDK), firmware and drivers of the 45,000 KIEMS kits procured in 2017 are not part of the deliverables of the KIEMS contract. Nevertheless, even if the company did not wish to participate in the tenders related to the next general elections scheduled for 2022 and taking into account the tight deadlines the IEBC is facing, and lack of response from Smartmatic International B.V., Idemia delivered this SDK to the IEBC at no cost on March 31st 2022.”

Lighthouse Reports also carries this statement from the company: “All the internal and external audits – which are otherwise accessible – carried out on our services have confirmed that the company has fulfilled its obligations in accordance with its commitments.”

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