Published today in The Elephant: FREE,FAIR AND CREDIBLE? Turning The Spotlight On Election Observers in Kenya | The Elephant by Ken Flottman.
“Can John Kerry help stop Kenya from slipping into Post-Election Violence Again?“, Newsweek, 10 Aug 2017:
Beyond the “Western patrician savior” headline:
. . . .
“I know what it’s like to lose an election. I lost by one state the presidency of the United States, and I had a lot of reasons to complain about what happened in Ohio or in other states. But you gotta get over it and move on,” said Kerry Thursday at a press conference in Nairobi, where he has headed up the election observation mission from the Carter Center. Kerry was likely referencing issues with the voting system in Ohio that led to a recount and reduced margin of victory for Bush.
The result—and perhaps more significantly, the aftermath—of Kenya’s presidential election is not yet clear. With almost 99 percent of the votes counted, incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta is in front with 54 percent of the vote, ahead of opposition leader Raila Odinga at 45 percent. Kenya’s electoral commission has said the result will be confirmed on Friday.
But Odinga has signaled he will not accept the result quietly. Odinga stated on Thursday that unknown figures had hacked into the electronic systems of the electoral commission—using the identity of Chris Msando, the commission’s IT chief who was tortured and murdered less than two weeks before the vote—and swayed the vote in favor of Kenyatta. Odinga has called for calm but has also not ruled out summoning his supporters to the streets.
Such a move would have a dreadful familiarity in Kenya. After the 2007 election, which Odinga lost to incumbent Mwai Kibaki amid allegations of rigging, supporters of both candidates clashed over several months in an ethnically charged conflict that left more than 1,000 people dead.
Kerry has led the Carter Center’s observation mission in Kenya, which saw observers deployed at more than 400 polling stations across the country, as well as 36 tallying centers. The center said in a preliminary statement on Thursday that despite some problems in the transmission of results from polling stations to tallying centers, the vote had been conducted in a peaceful and calm atmosphere. It urged candidates to wait for the official results before commenting and to “use established legal channels” to resolve any disputes and “ensure that their supporters remain calm” before and after the results have been confirmed.
Kerry himself said the vote appeared to have proceeded in a free and fair manner. “The process that was put in place is proving its value thus far,” he said. “Kenya has made a remarkable statement to Africa and the world about its democracy and the character of that democracy. Don’t let anybody besmirch that.
Former President Barack Obama also has urged Kenyans and their leaders to reject “tribal and ethnic hatred” and to “work together no matter what the outcome.” (emphasis added)
Facile comparison to very dissimilar 2007 situation (see my The Debacle of 2007 in The Elephant here.) Exaggerated time period for that violence ten years ago (most of the violence was within one month of the election and the settlement was reached at the end of the second month). No mention that following new the constitution in 2010 as a result of the 2008 settlement, the Odinga v Uhuru dispute of 2013 resulted in no widespread violence and much smaller numbers of opposition supporters killed by State for protesting. No mention that the country in August 2008 was basically locked down by a massive and oppressive state security deployment.
No substantive focus on the main electoral problem: failure of results transmission system, as in 2013 (and mirroring 2007) yet bare assertion that 99 percent of vote counted.
Advocacy by Kerry beyond written statement of his Carter Center Mission that the election appeared to meet standards and to achieve the (Western) goal of an African success story and “Don’t let anybody besmirch that”. Etc.
Needless to say, politics and these elections have not historically been involved in bringing Kenyans “together”. Quite the opposite in fact.
“Shocking” news again from Kenya: the more things don’t change the more they stay the same. This election time is quite different than 2007 or 2013 in many ways and not in others.
In regard to post election mechanics (analog and digital), these change a lot each election. Not as much as the law requires perhaps, but significantly.The process of voting by paper ballot, counting the paper ballots by hand and recording the vote by hand on paper on Form 34A and posting it on the door (or in some cases deciding not to) is fixed and well established, 2007, 2013, 2017. Kenyans have and do “come together” over this process. They always do it peacefully.
Not sure why people are seeming to find that to be a novelty. A great and important thing yes–and it should not be taken for granted. Nor should it be misrepresented as “progress” or any form of “change” each time it is repeated.
So no, this peaceful turnout in long lines to vote by this same process in 2007, 2013 and again in 2017 is not, in fact, an act of faith at all as described by ICG. It is an act of hope each time. Arguably for many an act of love for country or subgroup. Kenyans are broadly faithful, but not in the election process as a whole.
From a COMESA Press Release yesterday:
COMESA believes that elections play a pivotal role in societal transformation in the region and provide a footstall for entrenching democratic principles.
Premised on this critical role, Member States have continued holding periodic elections which have heralded a new dawn by signifying steady progress towards deepening and institutionalizing democracy in the 19-member bloc.
Nonetheless, COMESA is still dispatching teams of Election Observers to issue Preliminary Statements just after the upcoming elections in Rwanda on August 4 and Kenya on August 8, with further reports after 90 days.
Zimbabwean Ambassador Dr. Simbi Mubako will lead the team for Kenya to arrive 30 July.
Think I am too jaded? Enjoy this:
The presidential elections in Rwanda follows the 2015 referendum that unanimously approved a constitutional amendment that allowed President Kagame to run for office in 2017. The forthcoming elections are considered important in Rwanda’s socio-economic and political progress.
In the past years, Rwanda has made significant progress in consolidating its political stability, economic growth and development. Furthermore, Rwanda has recorded major milestones in consolidating democracy through holding periodic parliamentary and presidential elections as stipulated in its legal framework.
Since 2008, COMESA has continued to support the elections process in Rwanda. COMESA observed the parliamentary that were held in 2008, 2013 and the presidential elections held in 2010.
I am all for extra diplomats and elders from the region being in Kenya for the election to meet diplomatic needs that may arise. But let’s not confuse this type of “intramembership” diplomatic obsevation with an independent election observation.
[See U.S. and IGAD Statements on Djibouti election from last year, featuring Kenya’s Issack Hassan for IGAD]
In the 2013 Kenyan election John Kerry was the American Secretary of State, speaking to Kenya’s elections that year in his role as lead American diplomat. The U.S. provided key funding as well as embedded technical support for the IEBC in that election, including funding for the failed procurement of an electronic results transmission system.
It was suggested that the election, in spite of a certain disarray and incomplete results, reflected “the will” of Kenyan voters–and was subsequently upheld by Kenya’s Supreme Court (with preliminary observer statements from the Carter Center and EU as evidence offered by the IEBC in litigating against the challenges).
Likewise as Secretary of State Kerry addressed Kenya’s 2017 elections during his official visits in 2015 and 2016. The second quote above, “free and fair, peaceful and credible”, comes from Secretary Kerry in Kenya last year. The new terminology for the 2017 vote, “fair, orderly, credible and nonviolent”, comes now from former Secretary Kerry, wearing a new hat as co-leader of the independent International Election Observation Mission being conducted by the U.S. based NGO, The Carter Center. (See Daily Nation 14 July “Ex-Secretary of State insists on fair election“)
Over the years I have written and noted the potential distinctions involved in the decision of international observers to suggest that a particular election “reflected” or corresponded to a standard labeled “the will of the people” on one hand, and on the other to label an election “free and fair.”
An overview and “gateway” is my post “An insider’s explanation of the difference between a ‘free and fair’ election and a ‘will of the people’ election — Kriegler deputy’s memoir“. The issue is discussed in relation to the internationally supported South African election of 1994 discussed in the recent memoir referred, and on into 2007 and 2013 in Kenya, with Kreigler and IFES re-engaged in a different context.
See especially my post “Are free and fair elections passe in Kenya?“.
The most important point for Kenyans is that the 2010 Constitution adopts explicitly as law a “free and fair” standard. Peace, order and nonviolence are good and important societal goals. Many of us are skeptical that tolerating corruption or other substandard conduct in administration of elections is somehow a useful tool to serve peace, order or nonviolence (just as war, disorder and violence do not clean up the election process).
2. Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.
3. Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved. Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust. No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.
4. The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over. There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others. I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).
5. Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.
6. Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007. Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab. In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi — is really failing. Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood. Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.
7. It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year). It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning. Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.
8. Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time. Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.
9. I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war. In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction. The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted. On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.
Someday, my hope remains, administration of elections in Kenya can be a straightforward and transparent affair that is not the stuff of secrets, drama and death. However, that is not an option on today’s menu. Church leaders by first speaking out earlier on the need for reform of the IEBC, followed by a call for dialogue now with escalating tensions and killings by police, have served the needs of the mwananchi; the foreign envoys who have spoken collectively both publicly and presumably privately during the recent opposition demonstrations and crackdown have added muscle toward an a needed de-escalation.
Next steps: let’s lance the boil of secrecy in the administration of elections; I firmly believe that Kenyans can be trusted to know how they voted and that counting votes in Kenya does not really have to be harder than in other countries.
Without the secrecy, the opportunity opens for the more patriotic and more humane voices within the policitical process, both within parties and in civil society, to come to the fore.
Of course, this should never have been taken with a straight face by the media as it is wholly implausible. You have to have a “free and fair” count and reporting of the count to have a free and fair election.
Tanzania is one of five EAC member states (and the one with the most stabile recent democratic progress, but a ruling party that has not turned over since independence). Groups of diplomats from the EAC and SADC are not similarly situated to outside, at least notionally independent, observation organizations.
See: How is IGAD’s “diplomatic observation” regarding Kenya’s election process helpful? from February 1, 2013.
Election Observation: Diplomacy or Assistance? from July 25, 2010.
Here is the link to the EU Election Observation Mission which issued a positive but temperate preliminary statement on the progress of the election yesterday. There are always “real world” issues and limitations, but these EOM’s are institutionally established to have some level of bona fide independence, and the government facing this election is not a member of the EU which includes many members with a wide range of relevant interests.
[The point here is you cannot possibly reach a plausible conclusion that an election was “free and fair” or reflected “the will of the people” in the early stages of counting the vote! Would have thought that goes without saying . . .]
The Southern African Development Community election observation mission is led by Oldemiro Baloi, Foreign Minister of Mozambique. Tanzania is a member state of SADC. Amid the “preliminary” statements from the various observation missions being reported by the international media, from Twitter:
@sarahkimani: Baloi: Tanzania’s elections were free, fair, transparent and credible and represent the will of the people of Tanzania. #SABCnews