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Smartmatic: The Election Company and their Role in the Upcoming Elections

12 min read.

As Kenyans vote they deserve full adherence to the Constitution by the IEBC. A clear picture from the IEBC and Smartmatic on the ownership, corporate structure, funding, and governance structure of Smartmatic were necessary for these constitutional thresholds to be met.

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Smartmatic: The Election Company and their Role in the Upcoming Elections
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So far in this series we have commented on several aspects of the upcoming general elections in Kenya. One of our articles, which was published on 8 July, focused on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) election preparedness. In it, we discussed the IEBC’s supplier of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) kits, Smartmatic International Holding B.V (Smartmatic). For the reader’s benefit, KIEMS refers to the integrated elections management system which the IEBC is required by law to deploy in all elections. It comprises biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification and results transmission – a combination of both hardware and software. Following our article, Samira Saba, Smartmatic’s Director of Communications, reached out to us seeking to set the record straight in relation to claims around the credibility of Smartmatic’s systems. In our article, we cited the Philippine Cybercrime Investigation and Coordination Centre’s conclusion that Smartmatic’s system was ‘compromised’. Smartmatic elaborated on this claim, stating that the finding by the Philippine authority related to a now former Smartmatic employee sharing non-sensitive day-to-day operational material with individuals outside the company who then proceeded to unsuccessfully try and extort Smartmatic. In addition to offering this explanation, Samira informed us that with election day approaching, the likelihood of misinformation is only likely to increase and as such, she was ‘at [our] disposal to clarify any doubts [we] may have about’ Smartmatic.

In the interest of transparency and considering recent news reports around Smartmatic, we took up Smartmatic’s invitation to clarify their role in Kenya’s elections. In this article, we interrupt our regular Road to 9/8 series to set out and analyse Smartmatic’s responses.

But let us first set the constitutional context. Article 81 of our Constitution requires our elections to be “transparent” and “administered in an impartial, neutral, efficient, accurate and accountable manner”. Article 86 of the Constitution requires the IEBC to ensure that “whatever voting method is used, the system is simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accountable and transparent”.

Has the IEBC and its relationship with Smartmatic met these constitutional tests?

Scope of inquiry

Our queries to Smartmatic focused on the following areas. First, we asked Smartmatic to shed some light around its ownership structure and its contract with the IEBC. Second, we inquired about Smartmatic’s proposed activities in the elections, specifically focusing on whether they would be handling any voter data, the reliability of the results transmission module of the KIEMS kits, their system’s critical dependencies and fallbacks, and whether they had confirmed the condition of any legacy KIEMS kits from 2017 which the IEBC intends to reuse. This is particularly relevant as, according to the publicly available tender document, the scope of Smartmatic’s mandate extends to providing the software which will run on all the KIEMS kits in the IEBC’s possession, not just those Smartmatic supplies. Finally, we asked Smartmatic about the recent arrest of Venezuelan nationals affiliated with them, and their relationship with an entity mentioned in a press release by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), Seamless Limited.  You can find here the specific questions we posed to Smartmatic and their responses.

Who is Smartmatic?

In May 2021, the IEBC published an international tender seeking a service provider to supply, deliver, install, test, commission, support and maintain KIEMS kits for the 2022 elections. Following the tendering process where five entities put in their bids, the IEBC awarded Smartmatic the contract. This decision was challenged at the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board by an interested tenderer, Risk Africa Innovatis, which alleged that the tender documents did not specify preference margins for local suppliers as required in public procurement law and also did not require international tenderers to acquire at least 40% of their supplies from local suppliers as required in the Public Procurement and Disposal Act. While the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board nullified the award and directed the IEBC to tender afresh, this was subsequently overturned by the High Court and Court of Appeal on the basis that Risk Africa Innovatis technically did not have standing as it did not put in a bid. With the legal challenge out of the way, the IEBC proceeded to sign a contract with Smartmatic. We understand from the IEBC, that the value of this contract is approximately KES 3.2 billion. For comparative purposes, the IEBC’s contract with Safran Identity and Security SAS (now IDEMIA) in 2017, costed USD 39.9 million (KES 4.3 billion at the exchange rate prevalent in 2017) and entailed the supply of 45,000 KIEMS kits. While the IEBC may seem to have cut costs, it is worth highlighting that it is only acquiring 14,100 KIEMS kits from Smartmatic, less than a third of the amount it acquired in 2017. We understand from the IEBC that 41,000 kits which it acquired in 2017 are still functional. Whilst such contracts may differentiate between the price of hardware, software and support and maintenance, a back of the envelope approach to pricing based on the number of KIEMS kits supplied would suggest that Smartmatic is materially more expensive than IDEMIA.

When Smartmatic approached us, they introduced themselves as the ‘undisputed leader in the elections industry’, having ‘deployed election technologies in 31 countries.’ Founded in Florida in 2000, Smartmatic has gone on to notably provide technology for elections in Belgium and Norway, among other countries. They further cited accolades such as recognitions by the United Nations, European Union, and the Carter Centre. However, with the existence of news reports relating to Smartmatic’s ownership structure and bearing in mind the consequential role they are playing in Kenya’s democracy, we asked Smartmatic to provide us a with further detail on its organisational structure and ultimate beneficial ownership. We also asked if they would be willing to share its contract with the IEBC in the public interest.

We understand from the IEBC that 41,000 kits which it acquired in 2017 are still functional.

In response, Smartmatic did not provide us with its ownership structure, only stating that Smartmatic Corporation is currently incorporated in Delaware, USA. Two of its founders, Antonio Mugica and Roger Piñate run the company. By its own account, 83% of the shares in Smartmatic Corporation (which is the entity incorporated in the USA) are owned by SGO Corporation Limited, a holding company incorporated in the United Kingdom. SGO in turn is owned by the Mugica and Piñate families. The remaining shares in Smartmatic Corporation are held by employees and angel investors. According to the response we received, Smartmatic International Holding B.V.—the company which received the tender from the IEBC— ‘is part of this structure’. Smartmatic also declined to share its contract with the IEBC on the basis that confidentiality requirements prevented them from doing so.

A publicly available search on SGO Corporation reveals that it had, as directors, Lord Malloch Brown, but he resigned on 4th December, 2020, Sir Nigel Knowles but he resigned on 18th May, 2021 and David Giampaolo but he resigned on 9th August, 2017.  As far as we can tell SGO Corporation Limited only has two directors, Antonio Mugica and Roger Piñate. From what we can tell, when Sir Nigel Knowles, Lord Malloch Brown and David Giampolo resigned, they were not replaced by other independent directors.

Elections are credible when the processes around them are transparent and capable of easy diligence.  The KIEMS kits and the software relating to them are at the very heart of the election process. So Smartmatic are central to our elections. Being absolutely clear as to who Smartmatic is, what their corporate and governance structure is, their precise shareholding and their funding structure should be a matter of public record.  The IEBC should have required this and should have shared this information with the public.  We consider that even if the IEBC did not, Smartmatic should have volunteered this information in response to our request.  Again, through this article, we request them to do so.  We consider that it does not behove Smartmatic, whose business model is designed to be at the nerve centre of democratic transitions, to be less than fully transparent about such matters. Being less than fully transparent creates a cloud of mistrust and uncertainty especially when one considers the history of Kenya’s elections particularly since 2002 and the palpable tensions that surround elections.  This is all the more the case because Smartmatic, on their website, proclaim that “transparency is at the core of what we do”.  Yet the company that ultimately owns Smartmatic only has the founders as directors and does not have any independent directors. One can expect robust corporate governance when independent directors are present and the likelihood of less robust corporate governance when they are absent.

What is Smartmatic’s role in the 2022 Kenyan elections?

In the run up to the forthcoming elections, there have been numerous news reports around the procurement of KIEMS kits and their reliability. For example, it was reported that once Smartmatic was awarded the contract by the IEBC, they had a challenge kicking off as the IEBC’s previous service provider, IDEMIA, allegedly held on to voter data due to a pending KES 800 million payment from the IEBC. A few months after, once the voter register was updated, the IEBC allegedly reported a failure rate of nearly 60% during a dry run of the results transmission system. Bearing the recent developments in mind and considering the importance of these kits, we sought to have Smartmatic clarify whether they would be handling voter data in accordance with the Data Protection Act, 2019 (DPA); whether, in addition to supplying new KIEMS kits, they had confirmed the condition of the remaining 41,000 KIEMS kits which the IEBC had procured in 2017; whether they would be willing to comment on the failure rate recorded during the dry run of the results transmission system; what critical dependencies their systems rely on; and what fallbacks they have in place.

Smartmatic, in a broad response to our queries, directed us to a press statement issued by the IEBC on 26 July, stating that the IEBC is the only entity at liberty to speak authoritatively about the election process. We are unclear as to why Smartmatic believe they are not at liberty to speak about matters in the public domain. They also refrained from commenting on the technical points regarding the reliability of the KIEMS kits, the failure rate, and their use of fallbacks. We consider that this is another missed opportunity by Smartmatic. In relation to their handling of voter data, Smartmatic stated that it ‘does not own or copy any personal data about voters in Kenya.’ They further went ahead to indicate that they are not in charge of processing results as the results are manually counted in each polling centre and tally reports are physically transported to tallying centres. By its account, Smartmatic does not play a role in any of these functions. Their KIEMS kits will only be used to transmit statutory tallying forms that are manually completed by the IEBC’s officers, not to tally any results. These tallying forms will be published by the IEBC on a public site and an official tally will be done manually in the tally centres.

It was reported that once Smartmatic was awarded the contract by the IEBC, they had a challenge kicking off as the IEBC’s previous service provider, IDEMIA, allegedly held on to voter data due to a pending KES 800 million payment from the IEBC.

Smartmatic’s account of the election process is broadly accurate, but major questions remain unanswered. In accordance with the Elections Act and its subsidiary legislation, the voting process begins when a voter is biometrically registered through a KIEMS kit prior to the elections. On election day, a voter is identified using the KIEMS kit’s electronic voter identification system. After being identified, they vote and are marked, through the KIEMS kit, as having voted. Tallying commences immediately voting ends and the presiding officer is required to complete the statutory Form 34A with the final result of the vote. While the tallying process is entirely manual, the eventual tally must be keyed into the KIEMS kit’s results transmission system and a scan or photo of the Form 34A uploaded. The same process is replicated cumulatively at the constituency and national levels with the Forms 34B and 34C respectively. All ballot papers and physical copies of the forms are delivered to the national tallying centre for verification before a declaration is made.

While Smartmatic’s claim that it neither owns nor copies any voter data may be technically accurate, it does not substantively respond to our query relating to compliance with the Data Protection Act, 2019. In the tender for the supply of KIEMS kits, the IEBC specified that the successful bidder would be required to undertake voter data migration from the previous system to the new one. Further, KIEMS contains three modules: biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification and results transmission. Two of these modules directly involve the handling of voter data such as national identification numbers. Based on our understanding of the tender, the supplier of KIEMS kits is also required to provide the software which the kits will operate on and on election day, is also required to provide technical support in relation to both hardware and software. With this in mind, it seems unavoidable that Smartmatic will handle voter data.  Its compliance with the DPA therefore remains an open question. In fact, the impasse with IDEMIA over voter data seems to confirm it. We must then think about its compliance with the obligation to register with the Data Commissioner, the provisions on cross border transfers of personal data, and, where it temporarily stores data, the requirement to maintain a server or a copy in Kenya. We point out that the IEBC has also contracted other service providers for among other things, maintenance services for its data centre, the supply, delivery and installation of network monitoring tools, the supply of the KIEMS network, and the supply of security information and event management, so Smartmatic is not solely responsible for the data life cycle.

On the reliability of the results transmission system, Smartmatic also did not respond. In the tender calling for bids for the supply of KIEMS kits, the IEBC specified that the successful entity (now Smartmatic) would be required to provide software support for all KIEMS kits, and as established, the KIEMS includes a results transmission module.  Smartmatic did not respond to our request for comment on the failure rate recorded during the IEBC’s dry run. Further, they also did not confirm whether they verified the condition of the legacy systems owned by the IEBC. This leaves a host of open questions: since we presume the Smartmatic’s software will run on both the KIEMS kits they have supplied to the IEBC and on the legacy systems, how do we allocate responsibility for their proper functioning as between Smartmatic and the IEBC?  How will we know whether the failure of an KIEMS kit to operate is attributable to IEBC or Smartmatic or whether the kit that failed was supplied by Smartmatic or was a legacy unit?  Is Smartmatic’s limited responses consistent with their public proclamation that “transparency is at the core of what we do”.

Who are they working with?

In late July, three Venezuelan nationals entering Kenya were arrested while in possession of election materials. The DCI confirmed the arrest of Joel Gustavo Rodriguez, Carmago Castellanos Jose Gregorio and Salvador Javier Suarez. According to the DCI, the trio attempted to enter Kenya while in possession of stickers used to label election elections equipment. It was apparently not immediately clear to the authorities that these individuals were employees of Smartmatic or agents of the IEBC. In the DCI’s press release, it was alleged that the individuals came to Kenya at the invitation of Abdullahi Abdi Mohamed, an individual associated with Seamless Limited.  Little is known about Abdullahi Abdi Mohamed and his LinkedIn profile has been deleted. The IEBC responded to these events by issuing a press release confirming that the individuals were employees of Smartmatic and that the materials in their possession were non-strategic in nature. The IEBC went further to indicate that Smartmatic had a local partner in Kenya as required by the tender but did not specify who the partner was. We asked Smartmatic to confirm whether the three individuals were their employees. We also asked them to confirm whether they had procured the services of Seamless Limited, and if so, to shed some light on Seamless Limited’s specific role in the elections and its capacity to carry out this role.

Smartmatic confirmed that all three Venezuelan nationals were employees of Smartmatic, employed through one of its subsidiaries in Panama. All three have permanently resided in Panama for approximately 10 years and have worked on elections in several countries. In relation to the stickers in their possession, Smartmatic informed us that they were merely logistical in nature and not electoral material. They further indicated that the stickers ‘were printed according to the guidelines in the gazette notice published on July 1, 2022’ by the IEBC. Regarding its affiliation with Seamless Limited, Smartmatic declined to comment on the basis of having signed a non-disclosure agreement.  Their exact quote was “As per NDA signed, we don’t comment on partners.”

The response provided by Smartmatic in relation to the stickers, while technically accurate, raises many questions. For one, it is not clear why Smartmatic’s employees were carrying the stickers in their personal luggage. Further, it is also not clear on what basis Smartmatic was printing and supplying the IEBC with such stickers, yet it was not within the scope of the tender for the supply of KIEMS kits, and the IEBC is required to tender offers from the public for all supplies. For illustrative purposes, the IEBC has tendered for the supply of non-strategic election materials such as reflective jackets. The gazette notice which Smartmatic referenced only contains the official list of polling stations. It does not contain any guidelines for Smartmatic to adhere to.

In relation to Seamless Limited, the tender published by the IEBC required Smartmatic to provide proof of technical support staff with a local registered office in Kenya.  In a press statement, the IEBC indicated that Smartmatic complied with this requirement and procured a local partner in Kenya.  The IEBC did not name the local partner. News reporting alludes to this local partner being Seamless Limited. However, Smartmatic declined to confirm or deny this.  We reached out to Seamless Limited for comment but are yet to receive a response as at the date of this publication.  As far as we can tell, its website is generic in nature and does not refer to its role in the elections. The phone number quoted does not connect. Its offices are based, it appears, in a co-working space.

Again, both the IEBC and Smartmatic are failing to be as transparent as we consider they should be in the context of a democratic election process.  We do not consider that relying on a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is a good ground for refusing to even confirm the identity of the local partner that Smartmatic has chosen to work with, more so considering that Seamless did not consider itself bound by this NDA and confirmed its relationship with Smartmatic in a statement to the press.  Smartmatic could have chosen to simply deny any connection with the entity known as Seamless Limited. They have not done so.  So, we have no option but to assume that Seamless Limited is Smartmatic’s local partner, especially since news reports  suggest that Abdullahi Mohamed has confirmed the existence of a relationship between Seamless Limited and Smartmatic.  If so, then who is Seamless?  What qualifies them to also be at the heart of our democratic process?  What is their precise role in the forthcoming elections? How do we hold them accountable for this role?  We have no answers to any of these questions.

Conclusion

As Kenyans vote they deserve full adherence to the Constitution by the IEBC. A clear picture from the IEBC and Smartmatic on the ownership, corporate structure, funding, and governance structure of Smartmatic were necessary for these constitutional thresholds to be met. It should have been easy and simple to do. It has not been done. The role of Seamless Limited remains more than opaque, with Smartmatic referring to an NDA and the IEBC referring to a local partner but not naming that local partner. Kenyans can draw their own conclusions about this obfuscation.  IEBC and Smartmatic should both be able to confirm who the “local partner” is and what their precise role is. Many questions, not too many answers and only days to the election.  It all seems so sadly familiar.

This article was published in collaboration with Africa Uncensored. 

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Karim Anjarwalla is the Managing Partner of ALN Kenya|Anjarwalla & Khanna, a leading corporate law firm in Africa. He is also a director of the ALN Academy, an organization dedicated to enhancing the rule of law in Africa. Karim is passionate about entrenching good governance in both private and public institutions in the region, and has written extensively on topics at the intersection of Rule of Law, ethics and economics. Abdulmalik Sugow is a lawyer at ALN Kenya|Anjarwalla & Khanna and a legal researcher. His research interests include content moderation, intermediary liability and more broadly, the nexus of social media and democracy. Abdulmalik has published articles in peer-reviewed journals and on mainstream and independent media platforms. He has previously consulted for the World Bank and the Kofi Annan Foundation.

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Politics

Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven

From its beginnings as a fishing village, Lagos has grown into a large metropolis that attracts migrants seeking opportunity or Internally Displaced Persons fleeing violence.

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Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven
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Lagos, City of Migrants

From its origins as a fishing village in the 1600s, Lagos has urbanised stealthily into a vast metropolis, wielding extensive economic, political and cultural influence on Nigeria and beyond. Migration in search of opportunities has been the major factor responsible for the demographic and spatial growth of the city as Lagos has grown from 60,221 in 1872 to over 23 million people today. The expansion of the city also comes with tensions around indigene-settler dynamics, especially in accessing land, political influence and urban resources. There are also categories of migrants whose status determines if they can lay hold of the “urban advantage” that relocating to a large city offers.

A major impetus to the evolution of modern Lagos is the migration of diverse groups of people from Nigeria’s hinterland and beyond. By the 1800s, waves of migrants (freed slaves) from Brazil and Freetown had made their way to Lagos, while many from Nigeria’s hinterland including the Ekiti, Nupes, Egbas and Ijebus began to settle in ethnic enclaves across the city. In the 1900s, migrant enclaves were based on socio-economic and/or ethnicity status. Hausas (including returnees from the Burma war) settled in Obalende and Agege, while the Ijaw and Itsekiri settled in waterfront communities around Ajegunle and Ijora. International migrant communities include the Togolese, Beninoise and Ghanaian, as well as large communities of Lebanese and Indian migrants. The names and socio-cultural mix in most Lagos communities derive from these historical migrant trajectories.

Permanent temporalities

A study on coordinated migrations found that, as a destination city, Lagos grew 18.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012, with about 96 per cent of the migrants coming from within Nigeria. While migration to Lagos has traditionally been in search of economic opportunities, new classes of migrants have emerged over the last few decades. These are itinerant migrants and internally displaced persons.

Itinerant migrants are those from other areas of Nigeria and West Africa who travel to work in Lagos while keeping their families back home. Mobility cycles can be weekly, monthly or seasonal. Such migrants have no address in Lagos as they often sleep at their work premises or in mosques, saving all their earned income for remittance. They include construction artisans from Benin and Togo who come to Lagos only when they have jobs, farmers from Nigeria’s northern states who come to Lagos to work as casual labourers in between farming seasons (see box), as well as junior staff in government and corporate offices whose income is simply too small to cover the high cost of living in Lagos.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly. This is mostly because of the economic challenges Nigeria is currently facing that have crashed the Naira-to-CFA exchange rates. As a result, young men from Togo, Ghana and Benin are finding cities like Dakar and Banjul more attractive than Lagos.

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Aliu* aka Mr Bushman, from Sokoto, Age 28

Aliu came to Lagos in 2009 on the back of a cattle truck. His first job was in the market carrying goods for market patrons. He slept in the neighbourhood mosque with other young boys. Over the years, he has done a number of odd jobs including construction work. In 2014, he started to work as a commercial motorcyclist (okada) and later got the opportunity to learn how to repair them. He calls himself an engineer and for the past four years has earned his income exclusively from riding and repairing okada. Even though he can afford to rent a room, he currently lives in a shared shack with seven other migrants.

He makes between N5000 and N8000 weekly and sends most of it to his family through a local transport operator who goes to Sokoto weekly. His wife and three children are in the village, but he would rather send them money than bring them to Lagos. According to him, “The life in Lagos is too hard for women”.

Since he came to Lagos thirteen years ago, Aliu has never spent more than four months away from Sokoto at a time. He stays in Sokoto during the rainy season to farm rice, maize and guinea corn, and has travelled back home to vote every time since he came to Lagos.

 

The second category of migrants are those who have been displaced from their homesteads in Northern Nigeria by conflict, either Boko Haram insurgency or invasions by Fulani herdsmen. The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee. With many who initially settled in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) dissatisfied with camp conditions, the burden of protracted displacement is now spurring a new wave of IDP migration to urban areas. Even though empirical data on the exact number of displaced persons migrating out of camps to cities is difficult to ascertain, it is obvious that this category of migrants are negotiating their access to the city and its resources in circumstances quite different from those of other categories of migrants.

IDPs as the emerging migrant class in Lagos 

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, two of every three internally displaced persons globally are now living in cities. Evidence from Nigeria suggests that many IDPs are migrating to urban areas in search of relative safety and resettlement opportunities, with Lagos estimated to host the highest number of independent IDP migrants in the country. In moving to Lagos, IDPs are shaping the city in a number of ways including appropriating public spaces and accelerating the formation of new settlements.

There are three government-supported IDP camps in the city, with anecdotal evidence pointing to about eighteen informal IDP shack communities across the city’s peri-urban axis. This correlates with studies from other cities that highlight how this category of habitations (as initial shelter solutions for self-settled IDPs) accelerate the formation of new urban informal settlements and spatial agglomerations of poverty and vulnerability.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly.

IDPs in Lagos move around a lot. Adamu, who currently lives in Owode Mango—a shack community near the Lagos Free Trade zone—and has been a victim of forced eviction four times said, “As they [government or land owners] get ready to demolish this place and render us homeless again, we will move to another area and live there until they catch up with us.”

In the last ten years, there has been an increase in the number of homeless people on the streets of Lagos—either living under bridges, in public parks or incomplete buildings. Many of them are IDPs who are new migrants, and unable to access the support necessary to ease their entry into the city’s established slums or government IDP camps. Marcus, who came from Adamawa State in 2017 and has been living under the Obalende Bridge for five years, said, “I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

Blending in or not: Urban integration strategies 

Urban integration can be a real challenge for IDP migrants. Whereas voluntary migrants are often perceived to be legal entrants to the city and so can lay claim to urban resources, the same cannot be said about IDPs. Despite being citizens, and despite Nigeria being a federation, IDPs do not have the same rights as other citizens in many Nigerian cities and constantly face stigmatisation and harassment, which reinforces their penchant for enclaving.

The lack of appropriate documentation and skillsets also denies migrants full entry into the socio-economic system. For example, Rebekah said: “I had my WAEC [Senior Secondary school leaving certificate] results and when Boko Haram burnt our village, our family lost everything including my certificates. But how can I continue my education when I have not been able to get it? I have to do handwork [informal labour] now”. IDP children make up a significant proportion of out-of-school children in Lagos as many are unable to get registered in school simply because of a lack of address.

Most IDPs survive by deploying social capital—especially ethnic and religious ties. IDP ethnic groupings are quite organized; most belong to an ethnic-affiliated group and consider this as particularly beneficial to their resettlement and sense of identity in Lagos. Adamu from Chibok said, “When I come to Lagos in 2017, I come straight to Eleko. My brother [kinsman] help me with house, and he buy food for my family. As I no get work, he teach me okada work wey he dey do.”

The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee.

Interestingly, migration to the city can also be good for women as many who were hitherto unemployed due to cultural barriers are now able to work. Mary who fled Benue with her family due to farmer-herder clashes explained, “When we were at home [in Benue], I was assisting my husband with farming, but here in Lagos, I have my own small shop where I sell food. Now I have my own money and my own work.”

Need for targeted interventions for vulnerable Lagosians

“Survival of the fittest” is an everyday maxim in the city of Lagos. For migrants, this is especially true as they are not entitled to any form of structured support from the government. Self-settlement is therefore daunting, especially in light of systemic limiting factors.

Migrants are attracted to big cities based on perceived economic opportunities, and with limited integration, their survival strategies are inevitably changing the spatial configurations of Lagos. While the city government is actively promoting urban renewal, IDP enclaving is creating new slums. Therefore, addressing the contextualised needs of urban migrant groups is a sine qua non for inclusive and sustainable urban development.

“I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

There is an established protocol for supporting international refugees. However, the same cannot be said for IDPs who are Nigerian citizens. They do not enjoy structured support outside of camps, and we have seen that camps are not an effective long-term solution to displacement. There is a high rate of IDP mobility to cities like Lagos, which establishes the fact that cities are an integral part of the future of humanitarian crisis. Their current survival strategies are not necessarily harnessing the urban advantage, especially due to lack of official recognition and documentation. It is therefore imperative that humanitarian frameworks take into account the role of cities and also the peculiarities of IDP migrations to them.

Lagos remains a choice destination city and there is therefore need to pay more attention to understanding the patterns, processes and implications of migration into the city. The paucity of migration-related empirical data no doubt inhibits effective planning for economic and social development. Availability of disaggregated migration data will assist the state to develop targeted interventions for the various categories of vulnerable Lagosians.  Furthermore, targeted support for migrant groups must leverage existing social networks, especially the organised ethnic and religious groups that migrants lean on for entry into the city and for urban integration.

*All names used in this article are pseudonyms

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It

Nurses are central to primary healthcare and unless Kenya makes investments in a well-trained, well supported and well-paid nursing workforce, nurses will continue to leave and the country is unlikely to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals in the area of health and wellbeing for all.

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It
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Nancy* is planning to leave Kenya. She wants to go to the United States where the nursing pastures are supposedly greener. I first met Nancy when the country was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic that tested Kenya’s healthcare system to breaking point. She was one of a cohort of recently graduated nurses that were hastily recruited by the Ministry of Health and thrown in at the deep end of the pandemic. Nancy earns KSh41,000 net with no other benefits whatsoever, unlike her permanent and pensionable colleagues.

When the then Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui announced in early September 2021 that the government would be sending 20,000 nurses to the United Kingdom to help address the nursing shortage in that country, Nancy saw her chance. But her hopes were dashed when she failed to raise the KSh90,000 she needed to prepare and sit for the English language and nursing exams that are mandatory for foreign-trained nurses. Nancy would also have needed to pay the Nursing Council of Kenya KSh12,000 for the verification of her documents, pay the Kenya Medical Training College she attended KSh1,000 in order to get her exam transcripts, and apply for a passport, the minimum cost of which is KSh4,550 excluding the administrative fee. Nancy says that, contrary to then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s disputed claims that a majority of applicants to the programme had failed the English language test, most nurses simply could not afford the cost of applying.

Of the targeted 20,000 nurses, the first 19 left Kenya for the UK in June 2022. But even that paltry figure represents a significant loss for Kenya, a country where the ratio of practicing nurses to the population is 11.66 per 10,000. The WHO considers countries with less than 40 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people to not have enough healthcare professionals. Nearly 60 per cent of all healthcare professionals (medical physicians, nursing staff, midwives, dentists, and pharmacists) in the world are nurses, making them by far the most prevalent professional category within the health workforce. Nurses offer a wide range of crucial public health and care services at all levels of healthcare facilities as well as within the community, frequently serving as the first and perhaps the only healthcare provider that people see.

Kenya had 59,901 nurses/midwives in 2018, rising to 63,580 in 2020. Yet in 2021, Kenya was proposing to send almost a third of them to the UK to “address a shortfall of 62,000 in that country”.

The growing shortage of nurses in the UK has been blamed on the government’s decision to abolish bursaries and maintenance grants for nursing students in 2016, leading to a significant drop in the number of those applying to train as nurses. Consequently, the annual number of graduate nurses plummeted, reaching the current low of 31 nurses per 100,000 people, below the European average of 36.6 and half as many as in countries like Romania (96), Albania (82) and Finland (82). Facing pressure to recruit 50,000 nurses amid collapsing services and closures of Accident & Emergency, maternity and chemotherapy units across the country, the UK government decided to once again cast its net overseas. Established in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has relied on foreign healthcare workers ever since staff from the Commonwealth were first brought in to nurse back to health a nation fresh out of the Second World War.

The UK government’s press release announcing the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with Kenya states that the two countries have committed  “to explore working together to build capacity in Kenya’s health workforce through managed exchange and training” and goes as far as to claim that “with around only 900 Kenyan staff currently in the NHS, the country has an ambition to be the ‘Philippines of Africa’ — with Filipino staff one of the highest represented overseas countries in the health service — due to the positive economic impact that well-managed migration can have on low to middle income countries.”

It is a dubious ambition, if indeed it has been expressed. The people of the Philippines do not appear to be benefiting from the supposed increase in capacity that the exchange and training is expected to bring. While 40,000 of their nurses worked in the UK’s National Health Service last year, back home, according to Filipino Senator Sonny Angara, “around 7 of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing a health professional and the nurse to patient ratio in our hospitals remains high at 1:50 up to 1:802”.

Since 2003 when the UK and the government of the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the recruitment of Filipino healthcare professionals, an export-led industry has grown around the training of nurses in the Philippines that has attracted the increased involvement of the private sector. More nursing institutions — that have in reality become migrant institutions — are training nurses specifically for the overseas market, with the result that skills are matched to Western diseases and illnesses, leaving the country critically short of healthcare personnel. Already, in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

It is difficult, then, to see how the Philippines is an example to emulate. Unless, of course, beneath the veneer of “partnership and collaboration in health”, lies the objective of exporting Kenyan nurses with increased diaspora remittances in mind – Kenyans in the UK sent KSh28.75 billion in the first nine months of 2022, or nearly half what the government has budgeted for the provision of universal health care to all Kenyans. If that is the case, how that care is to be provided without nurses is a complete mystery.

Already in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

For the UK, on the other hand, importing nurses trained in Kenya is a very profitable deal. Whereas the UK government “typically spends at least £26,000, and sometimes far more, on a single nurse training post”, it costs only £10,000 to £12,000 to recruit a nurse from overseas, an externalization of costs that commodifies nurses, treating them like goods to be bought and sold.

However, in agreeing to the terms of the trade in Kenyan nurses, the two governments are merely formalizing the reality that a shortage of nurses in high-income countries has been driving the migration of nurses from low-income countries for over two decades now. Along with Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Kenya is one of the top 20 countries of origin of foreign-born or foreign-trained nurses working in the countries of the OECD, of which the UK is a member state.

Faced with this reality, and in an attempt to regulate the migration of healthcare workers, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Code of Practice on the Recruitment of Health Personnel in May 2010. The code, the adherence to which is voluntary, “provides ethical principles applicable to the international recruitment of health personnel in a manner that strengthens the health systems of developing countries, countries with economies in transition and small island states.”

Article 5 of the code encourages recruiting countries to collaborate with the sending countries in the development and training of healthcare workers and discourages recruitment from developing countries facing acute shortages. Given the non-binding nature of the code, however, and “the severe global shortage of nurses”, resource-poor countries, which carry the greatest disease burden globally, will continue to lose nurses to affluent countries. Wealthy nations will inevitably continue luring from even the poorest countries nurses in search of better terms of employment and better opportunities for themselves and their families; Haiti is on the list of the top 20 countries supplying the OECD region.

“Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers.”

Indeed, an empirical evaluation of the code four years after its adoption found that the recruitment of health workers has not undergone any substantial policy or regulatory changes as a direct result of its introduction. Countries had no incentive to apply the code and given that it was non-binding, conflicting domestic healthcare concerns were given the priority.

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has developed its own code of practice under which the country is no longer recruiting nurses from countries that the WHO recognizes as facing health workforce challenges. Kenya was placed on the UK code’s amber list on 11 November 2021, and active recruitment of health workers to the UK was stopped “with immediate effect” unless employers had already made conditional offers to nurses from Kenya on or before that date. Presumably, the Kenyan nurses who left for the UK in June 2022 fall into this category.

In explaining its decision, the DHSC states that “while Kenya is not on the WHO Health Workforce Support & Safeguards List, it remains a country with significant health workforce challenges. Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

The WHO clarifies that nothing in its Code of Practice should be interpreted as curtailing the freedom of health workers to move to countries that are willing to allow them in and offer them employment. So, even as the UK suspends the recruitment of Kenyan nurses, they will continue to find opportunities abroad as long as Western countries continue to face nurse shortages. Kenyan nurses will go to the US where 203,000 nurses will be needed each year up to 2026, and to Australia where the supply of nursing school graduates is in decline, and to Canada where the shortage is expected to reach 117,600 by 2030, and to the Republic of Ireland which is now totally dependent on nurses recruited from overseas and where working conditions have been described as “horrendous”.

“Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

Like hundreds of other Kenyan-trained nurses then, Nancy will take her skills overseas. She has found a recruitment agency through which to apply for a position abroad and is saving money towards the cost. She is not seeking to move to the UK, however; Nancy has been doing her research and has concluded that the United States is a much better destination given the more competitive salaries compared to the UK where nurses have voted to go strike over pay and working conditions. When she finally gets to the US, Nancy will join Diana*, a member of the over 90,000-strong Kenyan diaspora, more than one in four of whom are in the nursing profession.

Now in her early 50s, Diana had worked for one of the largest and oldest private hospitals in Nairobi for more than 20 years before moving to the US in 2017. She had on a whim presented her training certificates to a visiting recruitment agency that had set up shop in one of Nairobi’s high-end hotels and had been shortlisted. There followed a lengthy verification process for which the recruiting agency paid all the costs, requiring Diana to only sign a contract binding her to her future US employer for a period of two years once she had passed the vetting process.

Speaking from her home in Virginia last week, Diana told me that working as a nurse in the US “is not a bed of roses”, that although the position is well paying, it comes with a lot of stress. “The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients,” she says, adding that in such an environment fatal mistakes are easily made. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of losing her nursing licence hangs over Diana’s head every day that she takes up her position at the nursing station.

“The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients.”

Starting out as an Enrolled Nurse in rural Kenya, Diana had over the years improved her skills, graduating as a Registered Nurse before acquiring a Batchelor of Science in Nursing from a top private university in Kenya, the tuition for which was partially covered by her employer.

Once in the US, however, her 20 years of experience counted for nothing and she was employed on the same footing as a new graduate nurse, as is the case for all overseas nurses moving to the US to work. Diana says that, on balance, she would have been better off had she remained at her old job in Kenya where the care is better, the opportunities for professional growth are greater and the work environment well controlled. But like many who have gone before her, Diana is not likely to be returning to Kenya any time soon.

*Names have been changed.

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Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner.

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Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance
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Even before the 9 August general election, it was expected that the loser of the Kenyan presidential contest would petition the Supreme Court to arbitrate over the outcome. Predictably, the losing party, Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya Coalition, petitioned the court to have William Ruto’s win nullified on various procedural and technical grounds. Azimio’s case was predicated on, among others, three key allegations. First, that William Ruto failed to garner the requisite 50 per cent plus one vote. Second, that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati had announced the outcome without tallying and verifying results from seven constituencies. Finally, that the commission could not account for 250,000 votes that were cast electronically.

As we know, Azimio lost the case as the judges dismissed all the nine petitions that the party had filed, unanimously finding that William Ruto had won fairly.

Adjudicating electoral fallouts

Since its inception in 2010, the Supreme Court has played a decisive role in adjudicating fallouts linked to contentious presidential politics in Kenya, with the court deliberating on the outcome of three out of the four presidential elections held after its inauguration. Prior to this, the losing party had no credible institutional mechanism of redress and electoral disputes were generally resolved through mass political action (as in 2007) or consistent questioning of the legitimacy of the winner (as in 1992 and 1997).

The Supreme Court’s presence has, therefore, been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent, with the court operating as a “safety valve” to diffuse political tensions linked to presidential elections. It is, hence, impossible to conceive of the relatively peaceful elections held in 2013, 2017 and 2022 without the Supreme Court whose mere presence has been key in discouraging some of the more deadly forms of political rivalry previously witnessed in Kenya.

Relentless petitioning

While the Azimio leadership were right to petition the court in the recent election, first because this successfully diffused the political tensions among their supporters, and second because the court was expected to provide directions on IEBC conduct in future elections, it was clear that Raila Odinga’s relentless petitioning of the court in the previous two elections, and the nullification of the 2017 elections, was in essence going to be a barrier to a successful petition in 2022.

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner. The relentless petitioning of the court and the nullification of the 2017 elections had in essence raised the bar for the burden of proof, which lay with the petitioner(s) and, therefore, reduced the probability of a successful petition.

The Supreme Court’s presence has been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent.

The reason for this is both legal and political. Legal in the sense that the IEBC is expected to conduct the elections under the law, which, among other issues, requires that the electoral process be credible and the results verifiable before any certification is made, otherwise the election is nullified, as was the case in 2017. It is political because the power to select the president is constitutionally, hence politically, delegated to the Kenyan people through the ballot, unless electoral fraud infringes on this, again as was the case in 2017.

The court in its deliberation must, therefore, balance the legal-political trade-off in its verdict in search of a plausible equilibrium. For instance, while the majority of Azimio supporters had anticipated a successful petition based on the public walkout and dissent by the four IEBC commissioners, it seems that the decision to uphold the results displayed the court’s deference to political interpretation of the law by issuing a ruling that did not undermine the Kenyan voters’ right to elect their president.

While the settlement of legal-political disputes by a Supreme/Constitutional court is a common feature across democracies, and continuously being embedded in emerging democracies like Kenya, it does seem that in this election, the political motivations for upholding the vote outweighed the legal motivations for nullifying it. In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Supreme Court power grab 

A counterfactual outcome where the evidential threshold for the nullification of presidential results is low would foster a Supreme Court power grab, in lieu with the 2017 nullification, by marginalising the sovereign will of Kenyans to elect their president.

In many ways, nullification of the results would also have incentivised further adversarial political behaviour where every electoral outcome is contested in the Supreme Court even when the outcome is relatively clean, as in the case of the 2022 elections.

It is this reason (among others) that we think underlined the Supreme Court justices’ dismissal of Azimio’s recent petition. The justices ultimately dismissed the evidence presented by the petitioners as “hot air, outright forgeries, red herring, wild goose chase and unproven hypotheses”, setting a clear bar for the standard of evidence they expect in order to deliberate over such an important case in the future.

In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Since the earth-shaking nullification of the 2017 elections, the Supreme Court transcended an epoch, more political than legal by “invading” the sovereign space for Kenyans to elect their president, thereof setting a precedence that any future successful petition to contest a presidential election requires watertight evidence.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the successful 2017 petition. In so far as the evidence submitted to the Supreme Court by Azimio in 2022 was at the same level or even lower than the 2017 base, their case at the Supreme Court was very likely to be dismissed and even ridiculed as the justices recently did.

The precedent set by the 2022 ruling will, actually, yield two positive political outcomes. First, it will in the future weed out unnecessary spam petitions that lack evidence and rather increase needless political tensions in the country. Second, it has signalled to future petitioners, that serious deliberations will only be given to petitions backed by rock-solid evidence.

Missed opportunity

From the recent ruling, it is evident that the judgement fell far below the precedent set in 2017. The 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the IEBC should make the servers containing Form 34A publicly available, was crucial in improving the credibility of the 2022 elections, by democratising the tallying process. At a minimum, the expectation was that the justices would provide a directive on the recent public fallout among the IEBC commissioners with regard to future national tallying and announcement of presidential results.

By dismissing the fallout as a mere corporate governance issue, the justices failed to understand the political ramifications of the “boardroom rupture”. What are we to do in the future if the IEBC Chair rejects the results and the other commissioners validate the results as credible?

Additionally, by ridiculing the petitioners as wild goose chasers and dismissing the evidence as “hot air”, the justices failed to maintain the amiable judicial tone necessary to decompress and assuage the bitter grievances among losers in Kenya high-octane political environment.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Mr Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the 2017 successful petition.

The Supreme Court ought to resist the temptations of trivializing electoral petitions, as this has the potential of triggering democratic backsliding, where electoral losers might opt for extra-constitutional means of addressing their grievances as happened in December 2007. It is not in the petitioners’ place to ascertain whether their evidence is “hot air” or not, but for the court to do so, and in an amiable judicial tone that offers reconciliation in a febrile political environment.

The precedent set by the 2017 ruling that clarified the ambiguities related to the IEBC’s use of technology to conduct elections, set an incremental pathway towards making subsequent elections credible and fair, and increased public trust in the key electoral institutions in Kenya.

The justices, therefore, need to understand that their deliberations hold weight in the public eye and in the eyes of political leaders. Therefore, outlining recommendations to improve the IEBC’s conduct in future elections is a bare minimum expectation among Kenyans. In this case, while they provided some recommendations, they failed to comprehensively address the concerns around the walk-out by the four IEBC commissioners.

At the minimum, chastising the IEBC conduct was necessary to consolidate the electoral gains made thus far but also recalibrate institutional imperfections linked to how elections are to be conducted and, especially, contestations around the role of the commissioners in the national tallying of results in the future.

This article is part of our project on information and voter behaviour in the 2022 Kenyan elections. The project is funded by the Centre for Governance and Society, Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.

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