“Trust and Accountability” – Africa Center for Strategic Studies scholar discusses steps to a peaceful election


Back in March, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (the National Defense University center for study and collaboration on Africa, located at Ft. McNair in Metro Washington, DC, with a regional facility in Addis) published an article by Dr. Dorina Bekoe, Associate Professor of Conflict Prevention, Mitigation and Resolution:

“Ghana’s Peaceful Elections Built on Trust and Accountability”

Well worth just few moments to read in full.  Dr. Bekoe is a leading scholar in the election violence field.  I was fortunate enough to provide some input on her work for the Institute of Defense Analysis previously and to talk with her again recently about the upcoming election in Kenya.

Here are the four key takeaways:

First, the electoral management body must take concrete, visible steps to address perceptions or proven allegations of political bias. Second, electoral data must be accessible to the wide variety of relevant stakeholders. Third, the electoral management body should maintain an open line of communication with traditional and social media outlets. Finally, political leaders must choose words and actions that keep tense political environments from escalating.

Comparing Dr. Bekoo’s lessons for success from Ghana (from a violence avoidance perspective at least) to the situation with Kenya’s IEBC today is striking:

Worryingly, just six months before the elections, many Ghanaians said that they greatly distrusted the judiciary and electoral commissions—two critical institutions for administrating a peaceful and lawful political transition. Violence had broken out during various electoral processes, and politicians and their affiliates regularly employed incendiary language during the campaign. Notably, the Electoral Commission (EC) identified 81 constituencies as hot spots. More narrowly, the police identified 5,000 polling stations (of the 29,000) as potentially volatile. In short, analysts could not definitively predict that Ghana’s political transition would proceed peacefully.

Despite the troubling signals, Ghana’s political transition ultimately went smoothly. While political operatives disputed certain election results and accused one another of rigging, all accepted the final result without any violence. What can explain this outcome? An analysis of Ghana’s political dynamics shows that in the months leading up to the election, critical actions undertaken by Ghana’s Electoral Commission, political leaders, and civil society averted a rocky transition.

.  .  .  .

The EC subsequently took some highly visible steps to improve the credibility of the voter register, especially as the elections approached. . . .

.  .  .  .

The EC also made it easier to vote. . . .
.  .  .  .

Because the polling station data had become so accessible, many political parties and the media could call the election in favor of Akufo-Addo long before the EC announced its official results. As in past years, Ghana’s Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) employed parallel vote tabulation (PVT), an exercise where observers, stationed in selected polling stations in each of Ghana’s 275 constituencies, record information on the election, including the results. The PVT estimated Akufo-Addo garnered 53.75 percent of the vote, against the official EC result of 53.85 percent. Similarly, the PVT estimated Mahama obtained 44.32 percent of the vote, against the official EC result of 44.40 percent, which lent credibility to the EC’s results.

Members of the media, other political parties, and civil society organizations also closely tracked the results. By the early morning of December 9, the EC and the NDC remained the only major stakeholders that had not announced results. Even though the NDC disputed the NPP’s win until the last minute, without the consensus and transparency of data, the environment would likely have been tenser.

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Ghana’s experience showed that communication also matters. The EC established its first communication department, and throughout the counting process, the electoral commissioner’s director of communications was on hand to respond to developing events. The ready accessibility to the EC decreased the potential for rumors to develop and spread. All elections will have crises, moments of confusion, and points of contention. The key for a peaceful resolution lies in different stakeholders managing these events in an open, quick, and inclusive manner.

With only two months to the election, compared to the six month time frame covered in Bekoe’s Ghana example, it is too late to replicate much of the trust building in Kenya. Not that these things could not have been implemented, but that the authorities in position either had other priorities or extraneous limitations. Two months is, however, plenty to time for the Government of Kenya to turn away from banning broadcasting of voting results as they come in, for instance, that contract transparency and accountability.

In my opinion, the ban on live broadcasting implemented by Internal Security Minister John Michuki in 2007, and the Government’s action in pulling down the media house’s reporting of results (although arguably helpful in safeguarding the theft of the presidency) made a big contribution to the level of violence. It created a climate of mistrust and fear, the atmosphere of the “civilian (police-enforced) coup”. Go back and read the blogs at that time, Ory Okolloh’s Kenyan Pundit in Nairobi and Ken Opalo in the diaspora in California, and many, many others to get a flavor.