When Kenyan voters head to the polls this August to decide the political future of their nation, their votes could be cast on ballots printed by a Dubai firm alleged to have unclear ties with the powerful family of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Presidential candidate Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance political party has filed a lawsuit against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for the decision to contract Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing, a printing powerhouse from Dubai, to print the ballots. Odinga’s claim is the award of the tender was made without regard to the Constitution; moreover, the candidate also believes that the connections between Al Ghurair executives and shareholders with the Kenyatta family should disqualify the firm from taking on ballot printing contracts.
The Al Ghurair tender would net the Dubai company 2.5 billion shillings, more than $24 million. This would not be the first time Al Ghurair will have printed ballots in Africa. In 2016, the firm won similar contracts in Uganda and Zambia. In fact, a Kenyan High Court prevented the company from printing ballots because its plan did not conform to election laws amended in 2016. The IEBC came under pressure to seek another provider of printing services, but it chose to relent in the end.
With less than 50 days left before presidential elections, the lawsuit by Odinga threatens to toss a wrench in the democratic process as his party is calling for the polls to be postponed. However, over the past few days, the lawsuit has been moved to Chief Justice Maraga, who, after initially declining to interfere with the process, has set up a three-judge panel to hear the case.
For his part, President Uhuru attempted to seize the moment by stating that if Odinga and other opposition parties were not “prepared for elections,” that they should pack their bags and go home. The President has been trying to position his party as the frontrunner in the election; furthermore, the Kenyan Judiciary has stated that it would not interfere in the elections.
The legal community in Kenya has taken the side of due process and its members are not impressed with Chief Justice David Maraga and his desire to stay away from the fray, which essentially puts him on the side of the embattled IEBC.
Ezra Chiloba, the Chief Executive of the IEBC, has explained that Kenya is paying a lot more than Uganda and Tanzania for having Al Ghurair print the ballots due to the complexity of the elections, but he feels that Kenyan voters are getting a good deal nonetheless. Chiloba has not commented on the alleged ties between the company and the ruling family.