What 21st Century Elections in Africa (or elsewhere) Can Be . . .

From Kui Kinyanjui in the Nairobi Business Daily:

The technological revolution in Kenya’s electoral process became abundantly clear as the final numbers came in from Wednesday’s referendum.

Analysts said the digital shift contributed to making the referendum a more transparent affair, with citizens emerging as a vital tool in ensuring the process remained free and fair.

The biggest beneficiary from the transformation is likely to be the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC), that effectively received the mandate to fully digitise the elections process.

“We have learned that the use of technology has greatly enhanced the process and sped up the gathering of results,” said Isaak Hassan, IIEC Chairman.

More than 27,000 GPRS-enabled mobile phones were used to send results from polling stations to the main tallying centre at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi.

“Using mobile phones, SMS and some software we got results securely checked into a central server, tallied and instantly relayed to the public … this is eGovernance without the usual big budgets and failure that often accompanies ICT projects,” said industry analyst John Walubengo, on an online forum.

In 2007, the ECK elected not to use the technology at the last minute, the votes for president were not reported honestly and chaos ensued. Congratulations to everyone involved in the Independent Interim Electoral Commission for showing how it can be done and delivering an election to be proud of.

We don’t know who won poll, says envoy–Standard reports from 2nd Anniversary of “Power Sharing”

By David Ochami

The US Government has defended its quick recognition of President Kibaki’s controversial win of the disputed December 2007 presidential election.

However, US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger admitted that to date the US was not sure who won the election. Mr Ranneberger on Sunday said power sharing between ODM and PNU had not brought the desired dividend against impunity and corruption.

“The election was disputed. We did our best to get to the bottom of it. It is almost impossible to say who won,” he said.

The envoy spoke on the second anniversary of the signing of the National Accord and disputed perceptions that former Under Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer’s intervention at initial stages of the post-election crisis favoured Kibaki’s win.

Addressing the Press in Addis Ababa in 2008, Dr Frazer suggested that opposition supporters in Rift Valley were cleansing Kibaki’s tribesmen from the region. She later retracted the reference a few days after Ranneberger led the US’ recognition of Kibaki’s disputed win. As violence spiralled across the country, the US withdrew the recognition.

On Sunday, Ranneberger claimed Frazer’s statements and US recognition was forced by circumstances.

He said the US had little recourse after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki winner.

“We knew there was no possibility of a recount in the circumstances,” the envoy said, adding that after violence broke out, the US led foreign powers in calling for AU mediation and a negotiated settlement.

Two years later and the same ambassador giving similar answers to the same questions, about events from two years ago. I think it is fair to say that he hasn’t been particularly persuasive.

HT to DS in Nairobi

“We are aware that over two million dead people voted in 2007” says US Undersecretary Otero in Nairobi

Lead from the Standard (and today’s most read on-line story):

A US official revisited the controversial 2007 presidential election when she said her country was aware two million dead voters were not weeded from the electoral register as pressure on reforms mounted.  US Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero said America is aware that there were over two million dead voters whose names remained in the register and voted in 2007.   “We are aware that over two million people voted in 2007, so we will support the process of compiling a new voter register. At a time the whole world is watching Kenya, we want to be there with our support,” Ms Otero said.   She spoke on Thursday during a meeting with Prime Minister Raila Odinga in Nairobi where she affirmed the US pledge to fund the reform agenda, including new voter registration by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission.  Otero, who was accompanied by US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, said America will support the IIEC with the ambassador saying they are putting together “a couple of millions of dollars” for IIEC.

One of the devilish inconsistencies here, of course, is reflected in what the State Department’s Africa Bureau had to say about the 2007 election in a new edition of its “Background Notes” for Kenya issued January 10: “On December 27, 2007, Kenya held presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections. While the parliamentary and local government elections were largely credible, the presidential election was seriously flawed, with irregularities in the vote tabulation process as well as turnout in excess of 100% in some constituencies.” The problem of course is that 2 million dead people didn’t vote for President alone–they also voted for Members of Parliament. The Standard article ties Otero’s remarks to the report of the Kreigler Commission, which noted large numbers of dead voters on the roles, among many systemic failures and basically found the whole process deeply questionable (while declining to excercise its mandate to investigate the presidential voting and tallying specifically–citing lack of time and resources as well as lack of feasibility–not so surprising perhaps from a Commission reporting to the Kenyan President, which met privately with the President before reporting, and that was funded by at least one donor who was not supportive of that mandate). You really can’t have this both ways. If the major problem with the 2007 elections was systemic then you cannot plausibly act like there isn’t a problem about who did and didn’t end up in Parliament vis a vis how actual live Kenyans voted or intended to vote.

This matters a lot right now when you have the Constitutional Review process seemingly taken over by a Parliamentary Commission. My personal opinion is that both sets of election problems are fully real: the presence of dead voters and all the other across-the-board systemic failures identified by the Kreigler Commission are substantiated; likewise, the observations and allegations of specific misconduct in the presidential race asserted by civil society and international observers and diplomats are also real. Thus, we do not have a legitimate democratic government in Kenya and the notion that the present coalition of convenience could effectively govern the country for a full five year term and actually deliver major reforms is wishful thinking.

In the meantime, the British High Commissioner warned of the potential for 2012 poll violence.

Friendly Fire? IRI Chairman McCain Labels Exit Polling as Pork!

Republican Senators McCain and Coburn have issued a purported list of 100 wasteful porkbarrel programs getting funding under federal stimulus legislation–one item targeted on the list is a little over $200,000 for exit polling in Africa by the University of California, San Diego. 

Is this just a political cheapshot at UCSD for publishing the results of the Kenyan exit poll from the 2007 general election and accompanying research? 

For this Kenyan exit poll, McCain’s International Republican Institute (“IRI”), for which I was Resident Director of the East Africa Office at the time, received funding from USAID, along with an extra $10,000 from Dr. Clark Gibson, chair of Political Science at UCSD.  The poll showed the challenger Raila Odinga soundly defeating the incumbent Mwai Kibaki.  When the Electoral Commission of Kenya announced that Kibaki had won amid disputes and allegations of fraud, the US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger initially called on Kenyans to accept the results and the Bush State Department initially congratulated Kibaki (later retracting), even though the Ambassador had received the preliminary exit poll results on the evening of the vote.

Dr. Gibson and his associate James Long designed the poll under a consulting agreement with IRI and Long supervised the field work of IRI’s Kenyan polling firm Strategic.  IRI maintained a six month “exclusive” on rights to publicity on the poll under the consulting agreement and refused to let UCSD or Strategic release or comment on the results.  IRI declined to comment on the poll and then began telling journalists and others in Washington that it was flawed, eventually issuing a statement on February 7, 2008 that it had determined the poll to be “invalid” after hearings that day of Senator Feingold’s Africa Foreign Relations Subcommittee in which Feingold called on Asst. Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer and the Asst. Administrator for USAID to explain why the poll had not been released as post-election violence and negotiations between the contestants continued.

After the expiration of the six month embargo, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) sponsored the release of the poll by UCSD on July 8.  Gibson and Long presented a detailed rebuttal to the alleged concerns raised by IRI.  The UCSD team also presented at SAIS at Johns Hopkins.  In August, more than a month later, on the day before Gibson and Long were to testify on the results of the poll before the Kreigler Commission in Nairobi, appointed to review the election under the February 28 power-sharing settlement, IRI released the poll, having found that it was valid after all. 

In the meantime, IRI continues exit polling all over on the taxpayer dime–and trumpets the “earned media” it gets for this from publications like the New York Times.  But apparently National Science Foundation funding for polling done by actual social scientists at UCSD outside the auspices of International Republican Institute is pork!

As Gibson and Long pointed out in their presentation of their research to the Working Group on African Political Economy last year, the US spends hundreds of millions on democracy promotion, but we don’t even know what motivates African voters.  Of course, if we don’t really always want to know HOW they vote, I guess maybe we don’t care why either?  And for that matter, maybe we don’t want to learn more about how effective that “democracy promotion” money is?

James Long worked tirelessly under pressure to help execute the Kenyan poll for IRI under difficult circumstances, and even provided substantial free assistance on IRI’s September 2007 pre-election poll (which was quickly released, by the way).  File this under the category of “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished”.