[Updated June 3] “Kenya’s Elections: Observing the observers”

The new June issue of Africa in Fact published by Good Governance Africa based in South Africa has an article, “Kenya’s Elections: Observing the observers” by Mienke Mari Steytler.  I hope you will take time to read it.

The article included some observations on the work of the Election Observation Missions from interviews in Nairobi with yours truly as an independent consultant and responses and comments from others.  Here is one example:

The EU and the Commonwealth missions are also known for their independence and diplomacy, but others—particularly groups representing intergovernmental bodies—are less critical and independent, according to Mr Flottman. The AU mission had 69 observers and visited 400 polling stations throughout the country. The IGAD/ EAC/COMESA coalition deployed 55 observers to this year’s election.

Kenya is a member of the AU, IGAD, the EAC and COMESA, and they share geopolitical interests. Mr Flottman emphasised that observer missions representing the regional groupings are unlikely “to challenge any position of government”. For instance, the IGAD coalition mission declared the party nominations stage a success, Mr Flottman said. “They said the primaries were good. This is a nonsense statement. No one said that, come on.”

“Observer missions from the AU, SADC [Southern African Development Community], EAC, ECOWAS [Economic Community Of West African States]…because they are intergovernmental bodies, there is the ‘you rub my back, I’ll rub yours’ approach to certifying elections,” EISA’s Mr Owuor said, supporting Mr Flottman’s view. “In other words they were not very critical in an effort not to offend the current government.”

 

Update: on the issue of the use of the term “free and fair”, see The Star, “March 4 polls free, fair – EU”:

EUROPEAN Union election observers have said that the March 4 general elections in Kenya were “overally successful, free and fair” despite reported flaws.

They have however said the processing of the final results by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission “lacked the necessary transparency as party agents and election observers were not given adequate access to the tallying centres”.

Speaking yesterday in Nairobi while releasing the final report, EU elections observation mission chief observer Alojz Peterle said there are several lessons from the difficulties that arose during the process.

 

Here is the link to the entire issue for pdf download:  Africa in Fact:  June 2013–Elections: Make Them Count.

So who is “Good Governance Africa”?  Here is an interview by Africa in Fact editor Constanza Montana of John Endres, CEO of this “new kid on the block” of organizations working to improve governance in Africa.

Update:  See also this recent piece from Think Africa Press by Dr. Judith Kelley at Duke: “Watching the Watchmen: The Role of Election Observers in Africa”:

. . . There are certainly sometimes questions about the conduct of outside observers.

Elections in Kenya unfortunately often provide a case in point and the latest is no exception. The EU monitors have been dragging their feet, with their final report now overdue. EU observer mission spokesman, Peter Visnovitz, reportedly promised the report would be made public by 4 May, but we are still waiting. Furthermore, in its initial press release (before the counting was complete), the EU was positive despite noting that the biometric voting process disenfranchised more than 3 million voters.

Why is the EU taking so long for its final assessment? The Kenyan Star claims that an internal report revealed strong reservations about the processing of the results. Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted numerous problems and criticised the swiftness with which international observer groups pronounced all well in Kenya’s vote.

Earlier commotion around international observers in Kenya includes their muted response to the problems in the 1992 election; the mission was eager to send positive signals to calm fears of upheavals and resume aid. Their conduct in Kenya’s 2007 election also drew criticism from the UN Independent Review Commission; the body reported that monitors had at times based their claims on misunderstandings.

Time for an African solution?

International observers are clearly not perfect. But the final part of Obasanjo’s argument – that cure for the problem is for African monitoring groups to take over from international missions – rests on equally shaky grounds.

It is true that African groups have become more active. The AU, SADC, ECOWAS, and the electoral Institute of South Africa (EISA), among others, all now feature election observer missions. The AU started as far back as 1989, and the other groups have joined in the last 10 years or so.

That, however, is where the argument stalls. By and large, these groups are not ready to take over as the sole option for election observation on the continent. They have limited resources and experience, their sponsors or member-states are often not particularly democratic themselves, and most importantly, because these organisations are even more embroiled in politics on the continent, they are often more biased than non-African observers.

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