“The election that wasn’t” in Sudan

Jeffrey Gettleman from Khartoum on the start of voting Sunday.

Reuters says that the largest Sudanese observation group reports that the National Election Commission was “clearly not ready” for the voting and that the observers have called for an extension of the scheduled three day voting period.

Friday links

“Are the private sector and civil society natural enemies?”–insightful piece from the Nation Groups’s Pan-African Media Conference by Muthoni Wankeki in Pambazuka.

Meanwhile, a new survey reported in Business Daily indicates that Kenyan business leaders are worried about a repeat of election violence.

“In Defense of the Voice of America” by Alemayehu Mariam in Pambazuka, reprinted from Huffington Post.

Human Rights Watch reports on pre-election environment in Sudan and Ethiopia, says April and May elections unlikely to be “free and fair”. Ethiopia: Repression Rising Ahead of May Elections. Sudan: Government Repression Threatens Fair Elections. Daily Nation story here.

And for the first time a senior SPLM leader has called for Bashir to face the ICC charges against him in The Hague.

Washington and Nairobi

House Committee on Foreign Affairs March 24 hearing: “An Overview of US Policy in Africa”. Johnnie Carson’s prepared statement.

Carson refers to “flawed elections in places like Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Kenya” and notes the importance of upcoming elections.

Over the next two years, 27 countries in sub-Saharan Africa will hold elections. We encourage those governments to get it right. To level the playing field, clean up the voter rolls, open up the media, count the votes fairly, and give democracy a chance.

To stay abreast of developments in these important contests I’ve instituted a monthly meeting with NGO’s to discuss upcoming elections, including sharing experiences and best practices, and ensuring that scarce resources are equitably spread throughout the continent.

In Kenya, for example, which is scheduled to hold elections in 2012, we have redoubled our efforts to strengthen democracy and governance in the wake of 2007-2008 post-election violence. Our multi-year investment in strengthening Parliament continues to show strong results: as a result of U.S. institutional capacity building and material support, Parliamentary business is now broadcast live across the country to an eager and interested audience. We also co-hosted, in conjunction with the strong assistance of the House Democracy Partnership, Members of Parliament in order that they benefit from the experience of their peers here on Capitol Hill. As part of our efforts to empower independent voices in Kenya, we sponsored the National Youth Forum, which brought together leaders from all youth-oriented civil society groups to work jointly on democracy and reform initiatives. On the other hand, the Secretary warned that there will be “no business as usual” with those who impede democratic progress. This is not an idle threat as we already revoked the visas of selected high-ranking government officials and sent warning letters to others.

We will continue to work with, support, and recognize Africans who support democracy and respect for human rights. This includes working with governments, local NGOs, and international actors to highlight concerns such as security force abuses, infringements on civil liberties, prison conditions, corruption, and discrimination against persons due to their sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, back in Kenya Macharia Gaitho writes in The Nation about the start of voter registration and the fear and skepticism faced by citizens when they hear the politicians extol the process–Kenyans Must Be Promised Peaceful Elections in the Future.

A common thread is that registering to vote will only be worthwhile if there is a true and honest account of what went wrong in 2007; and if there is rock-solid assurance that the elections will never go so badly again.

Status of Reforms and Recounts in Kenya

We are now down to the last four days of debate in the Kenyan Parliament on a draft constitution.  The MPs appear fractured along the lines of competition for 2012 (party and factional splits) and on a regional/ethnic basis over issues of sub-national governance structures.  Changes to the current Committee of Experts draft require a 2/3 approval which appears to be a difficult hurdle.

If Parliament is unable to reach a broad consensus on changes, as appears likely, the referendum will go forward with the draft “as is”.  This will mean that there will be a lot of groups and interests that are not really happy with it, including some who have pledged or threatened opposition.  This will call everyone’s bluff at some level.

My guess would be that the current draft would be perceived by the voting public as enough of an improvement–and symbolically important enough in the post-2007 environment–that it will have broad support.  At the end of the day, I suspect it would be mostly people currently sitting in government in some form who would prefer the status quo.  It may well be that we will have behind the scenes efforts toward defeating the referendum from some politicians that offer a lukewarm endorsement in public.  Regardless, I suspect Kenyan voters will have a heightened resistance to being manipulated.

On other issues, Capital FM reports that a group of religious leader presented a memorandum to Kofi Annan during his present visit to Nairobi that seems to summarize well:

“We are concerned that political leaders, on whose shoulders the burden of implementing the reform agenda was placed, have shifted their focus to the 2012 general election,” the statement read.

They continued to say: “The situation is made complex by the fact that one principal is retiring while the other is firmly in the 2012 presidential race. This has made synergy remote since succession politics rather than national wellbeing is the overriding consideration in their minds.”

The leaders also told Mr Annan that very little effort had been made to address underlying issues classified as the root causes of the 2007/2008 post election violence.

They rated the government’s effort almost at zero in dealing with poverty, unemployment and regional inequalities which are some of the challenges that were identified as primary causes of the violence.

According to the leaders, the government was also not doing enough to realise land reforms despite the Cabinet passing a new land policy, “This is quite sad considering that land ownership and use was one of the causes of the post election violence.”

But they appreciated that a lot had been achieved in constitutional reforms though they expressed worries that political, ethnic and religious interests had almost overshadowed the national concerns.

They also called for consensus to ensure that the draft enjoys majority support when it will be subjected to a referendum.

On the issue of prosecutions from the post-election violence, the Justice Minister says the ICC is acting too slowly (like Kenyan courts) to approve Ocampo’s request to authorize a formal investigation. He says that a new effort to pass a “local tribunal” is first up following the consideration of the constitution. (Of course, the lack of finality/clarity about the potential for local prosecutions may be a primary issue restraining the ICC.)

Voter registration is underway. There are complaints about the slowness of issuance of national ID cards to potential new voters in some areas, but overall no surprising controversies that I am aware of yet.

Judicially supervised recounts continue in parliamentary challenges from the 2007 election. They are recounting the yellow ballots for parliamentary candidates. Hmm. Seems like it would be interesting to count the pink ballots for president, too. This is what the EU called for when the election results were disputed–but was dismissed as not possible by the US through Ambassador Ranneberger. Would have also been interesting for the Kreigler Commission to have done some sample recounts also. I’ll develop this further in subsequent posts . . . .

Washingtonpost: Sudan prez threatens to expel election observers

Sudan prez threatens to expel election observers

CAIRO — Sudan’s president threatened Monday to expel foreign observers over their recommendations to delay the country’s first multiparty elections in decades due in April.

“Ethiopia: Democracy or Stability”

Lauren Gelfund writes from Nairobi in World Politics Review on the current situation in Ethiopia ahead of elections and the issues facing Western donors. Note the venue at Nairobi’s Habesha restaurant, a popular expat haunt and one of my family’s favorites.

Feingold’s Strong Statement on Uganda getting international coverage

Senator Russ Feingold, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Africa Subcommittee issued a statement last week expressing concern about the fragile state of democracy in a number of African countries, with strong words about the state of affairs in Uganda looking ahead to the February 2011 presidential elections.

On Sunday, The Observer in Kampala ran the statement in full, under the headline “Uganda remains a one-party state, U.S. Senator tells Obama”. Yesterday, The Guardian covered it in Uganda news.

From the statement:

Uganda, like Rwanda, is a close friend of the United States, and we have worked together on many joint initiatives over recent years. President Museveni deserves credit for his leadership on many issues both within the country and the wider region. However, at the same time, Museveni’s legacy has been tainted by his failure to allow democracy to take hold in Uganda. Uganda’s most recent elections have been hurt by reports of fraud, intimidation and politically motivated prosecutions of opposition candidates. The Director of National Intelligence stated in his testimony that Uganda remains essentially a “one-party state” and said the government “is not undertaking democratic reforms in advance of the elections scheduled for 2011.”

Uganda’s elections next year could be a defining moment for the country and will have ramifications for the country’s long-term stability. The riots in Buganda last September showed that regional and ethnic tensions remain strong in many parts of the country. Therefore, it is important that the United States and other friends of Uganda work with that country’s leaders to ensure critical electoral reforms are enacted. In the consolidated appropriations act that passed in December, Congress provided significant assistance for Uganda, but also specifically directed the Secretary of State “to closely monitor preparations for the 2011 elections in Uganda and to actively promote…the independence of the election commission; the need for an accurate and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates.”

Preparing for 2012–I. The Constitution and the Presidency (the first installment in an occasional series)

We approach the halfway mark in the second Kibaki administration and watch as Kenyan politicians grapple with how to position themselves most advantageously for the next election, and as Kenyan wananchi hope for any opening toward the restoration of the sense of hope and empowerment experienced in the 2002 election. Much of the focus right now is on the process by which the members of the political elite mediate among themselves what to offer to the public for vote in a referendum on a new constitution.

Obviously this is a high stakes endeavor involving a degree of risk that Kenyan politicians do not normally indulge–which is why Kenyans continue to have a constitution that no one admits to liking and everyone promises to change when they are running for office. The first Kibaki administration lost its moment of public goodwill over the failure to accept reforms limiting presidential power. This created an opening for a new opposition center of gravity with the “Orange Democratic Movement” and ended the opportunity for Kibaki to win a majority in seeking re-election in 2007. With the old constitution, however, Kibaki did not need a majority to keep power.

To my way of thinking, it may be a distraction to focus too much right now on most of the intricate issues of law presented in the Committee of Experts draft constitution, in that the reality is that Kenya is simply not at a point where the law as written is such an important determinate of the rules of everyday life either for citizens or leaders. To me, the big picture issues of how Kenya will be governed in the future, if a new constitution is approved, are (1) how the president is chosen and (2) devolution versus centralization.

Presidential Elections to Date and the Current Pursuit of 2012

The political class seems to have abandoned the idea of having a Prime Minister which has been seen as a central point of contention in the past. To me this reflects the final denouement of the notion of the second Kibaki administration as being a “coalition government” involving “power sharing” between a Kibaki-led PNU establishment and an Odinga-led opposition.

In a nutshell, Kibaki in seeking a second term lost around 20-points off his 2002 majority, but the ECK which he appointed declared him to have won a plurality and to have met the thresholds of 25% in each of five provinces. Almost all outside observers have concluded that the election was stolen and surveys indicated that 75% of Kenyans believed so as well. Kibaki won a majority in the 2002 campaign and lost it in his performance in office, but retained power.

Since Moi conceded to allow formal “multi-partyism” in the wake of the end of the Cold War Kenya has had four elections. In three, an incumbent president sought re-election, failed to get a majority of the vote, but was declared the winner with a plurality, followed by significant violence. This was the pattern of 1992, 1997 and 2007. In 2002 there was no incumbent due to a constitutional reform imposing a two-term limit–a “macro level” legal reform that was ultimately respected. In this unique situation, the two leading candidates to succeed the president were both key members of the elite political establishment, and simultaneously key members of the Kikuyu tribal and business elite. Under the circumstances, the obvious landslide winner was the candidate positioned as “the opposition” while also being, in fact, part of the core elite.

How much alike were the candidates in 2002? Let’s look at some reportage from today’s Sunday Nation:

Mr Kibaki’s apparent endorsement of Mr Kenyatta’s manoeuvres in PNU is hardly surprising.

Mr Kenyatta and Mr Kibaki share long-standing family ties. It is said that it was Mr Kibaki who suggested to Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, that he should name his son Uhuru (freedom) to mark the attainment of independence in 1963.

The two families, whose private residences are barely 500 metres apart in the upmarket Muthaiga residential area in Nairobi, also share deep political connections.

George Muhoho, an uncle of the younger Kenyatta, was one of the founders of President Kibaki’s Democratic Party of Kenya.

While Mr Kenyatta has unquestionably taken up the role of the main man within PNU . . .

While 2002 might have seemed at first to be a breakthrough election representing a fundamental step up to a higher level of democratic development–rather than something of a bait-and-switch–by 2007 we were back to a situation where an incumbent who could not command a majority was seeking re-election.

Given the History, Why Not Create a Strong Prime Minister?

I think it would make sense for Kenyans to chose a presidential rather than parliamentary system, because a parliamentary system is based on functioning political parties. Having a “prime minister” without a party or parties in government and a party or parties in opposition in the parliament doesn’t make sense to me. Kibaki effectively gutted the nascent existing political parties as president by being elected to parliament and as president as the leader of the Democratic Party, but not using DP as a tool of governance nor leaving it, and disdaining to chose or form another party to run for re-election. Ultimately “PNU” was slapped together a the last minute, neither quite a party, nor quite a coalition–and was little more or less than the Kibaki re-election apparatus at the time.

Because Kibaki did not lead an organized party, after the election the claims on his loyalty were personal and tribal–he was not going to negotiate anything to do with the presidency–that was off the table–but spoils could be shared as he deemed necessary. Thus ultimately, he was able to cut a deal with Odinga without having to answer to a party. The settlement was against the wishes of many of his key partisans, including at least some of the PNU-side negotiators in the Kofi Annan-led talks which had in fact collapsed before the last-minute deal between “the principals”. After all, he was giving away jobs and titles that his second tier supporters wanted, rather than what he needed for himself.

ODM is likewise unlikely to survive the run-up to the next election. ODM had a certain level of potential as a party. It was strengthened as a party, I would argue, when Kibaki’s claim on Uhuru led Uhuru to pull KANU out of the opposition coalition. Uhuru couldn’t buck Kibaki and keep his seat in parliament and being leader of KANU was not enough for him without the seat. The clarity of the formal split with KANU left ODM in a position to develop as a party rather than a coalition. It survived the disruption of Kalonzo’s departure. It had a national leader in Odinga who even in the questionable ECK results won the vote in the entirety of the country other than Central Province by 1.5 million votes. Post-election however, its leader Odinga has no real power as Prime Minister to impose party discipline and Kenneth Marende whom ODM elected as Speaker its in greatest feat as a party holds an office that is treated in the strange current system as nonpartisan.

The Remaining Reform is the Requirement that the President Obtain a National Majority

Given the impracticality of expecting more from parliament or a prime minister without a level of development of political parties that simply has not transpired in these initial years of Kenya’s political opening, the reform that matters in my opinion, is to require that a presidential candidate obtain a national absolute majority. This would be a real change in and of itself, and could be one of those fundamental basics like the two-term limit that are actually honored and matter over time.