Kenyan election disaster a lesson for aspiring democracies in Africa
What started as a well ‘organised and peaceful voting process’ suddenly turned violent as soon as the vote counting process went pear shaped. The opposition scare became a little unbearable to the establishment. This unwelcome development prompted the adoption of unorthodox tactics of counting and tallying votes reminiscent of the brutal dictatorships and banana republics of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Kenya now presents a political calamity and a scenario too often replicated in many African countries. Kenya used to be highly respected by African standards, a beacon of African economic renaissance. It was undoubtedly one of the rare edifices of prosperity, stable economic growth of more than five percent, peace and stability -- an enviable exception to the cupidity, corruption, violence and civil disobedience that has characterised much of black Africa in the past decade.
It is a fact that Kenya will rise from the ashes of the current political mess but at what cost? Some predict that the reputation of Kenya has been once again put of the political altar and only seismic political changes from the bald and committed can rescue this proud nation from the current quandary. Incumbent President Mwai Kibaki will go down in history as a man who stole the election from resurgent opposition ODM leader Raila Odinga; this perception will only change if the former offers a credible political compromise.
It may not be known for sure as to who won the elections in Kenya albeit the court of public opinion being strongly swayed towards the underdog opposition leader Raila Odinga. President Mwai Kibaki may well have declared himself winner of the election but his legitimacy will be hotly disputed, especially given the fact that he has refused to allow an independent inspection of the vote counting process.
A lot of people have died as a result of this disputed election. It is no coincidence that Raila Odinga is bitter as his own father, Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga, a prominent figure in Kenya’s struggle for independence, Kenya's first vice-president and later opposition leader. The elder Odinga statesman was once a victim of political manipulation under Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta.
President Mwai Kibaki ‘officially won’ by 47% to 44% for Odinga. Ostensibly, he won by less than 3% which is by far within the margin of error. The result of this election provides the basis for power sharing, as there was no outright winner. The two candidates should therefore agree on how to share power if at all there is going to any effective government to talk about in Kenya.
President Kibaki can circumvent the inevitable reality of power sharing with Odinga only if he can forge strategic political alliances with smaller parties, who already appear not to be interested in being associated with his proxy legitimacy.
Like other political hotbeds in Africa, ethnic affiliations played a major part in this election although analysts in Kenya say that Odinga’s support transcends across the ethnic divide. Odinga is Luo and Mwai Kibaki is Kikuyu. Both men come from tribes which believe that it is now their turn after decades of being sidelined by ex-president Arap Moi, a Kalenjin. This writer does not believe tribe is an issue in African politics, but politicians make it one for expediency and their own political gains. Unfortunately, innocent people from different tribes often fall victim to political machinations which rarely benefit them personally.
However, tribally motivated or not, the reality is that the contentious Kenyan election has claimed hundreds of lives already. Comparatively, more people have died in this country than in Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe is now reviled internationally. There is no doubt that the number of victims of this seemingly stolen election may exceed 300 by the time the situation returns to normal.
Students of history and politics in Africa will record the just ended election in Kenya as a calamity, and antithetical to democracy. Questions will also be asked as to whether First-Past-the-Post system is the best form of electoral democracy in Africa, a continent divided along ethnical lines and grotesquely ignorant of the Western types of democracy.
Western double standards
In a BBC Radio 4 interview on January 2, 2008, about the threat of sanctions on Kenya, David Milliband, the British Foreign Secretary said: ‘’Right. But I mean commercial sanctions, in the end, the people who benefit from the trade between the UK and the rest of Europe, the UK's actually the biggest recipient of Kenyan exports…so what I would say about any discussion of sanctions or others in the future is that there are two key tests. First, who does it help and who does it hurt? Secondly, does it have the desired effect?”
The above statement by the UK government shows double standards compared to their stance on Zimbabwe, a country with a significant number of white settler communities than in Kenya. The official UK stance in Zimbabwe is to pursue sanctions against the beleaguered Mugabe regime at whatever cost. Unlike in Kenya, there is no consideration for ordinary Zimbabweans being hurt by sanctions in the same way they Kenyans are. In Zimbabwe, the UK believes the sanctions policy has the desired effect unlike in Kenya. It would appear sanctions only work in Zimbabwe but not Kenya.
It appears the UK Foreign policy towards Zimbabwe requires the use of a sledge hammer unlike in other trouble spots in Africa where leaders are not as “dangerous” and as vocal as Mugabe. It’s time the UK realises the double standards characterising its application of foreign policy in Africa. They protect ordinary citizens from perceived friendly countries whilst punishing other innocent citizens from perceived belligerent African countries such as Zimbabwe. In order to win respect across Africa, the West in general should apply the same principles or pressures to all trouble spots in Africa of course taking into cognisance their own strategic interests.
The West were conspicuous by their muted response to Africa’s worst elections in Nigeria last year, yet they make a lot of noises in other African countries with similar but even less concerning electoral processes. The Elections in Nigeria warranted the country’s suspension from the Commonwealth and imposition of sanctions but none of that ever happened for well known reasons. Nigeria is no better than Zimbabwe in democracy and human rights terms and the two countries deserve similar responses from the West
Lessons for Africa
The circumstances surrounding the aftermath of elections in Kenya should be seen as very damaging to aspiring democracies in Africa. First, African leaders, be they incumbent presidents or opposition politicians, should always pledge to abide by the basic principles of democracy irrespective of whether they win or loose elections.
There is a tendency by incumbent leaders to temper with election results when they realise that the results are not going their way, thereby adulterating the whole process of democracy. In most African countries, it is very rare for the incumbent to lose mid-term elections and as such the tendency is to use every trick available in the book to secure another term in office through controversial elections resulting in their disputed legitimacy.
By the same token in situations where elections are ‘transparent, properly and freely run,’ opposition figures should concede defeat as long as there are no significant voting irregularities. However, their conceding defeat is always marred by charges of lack of transparency and fairness, a major issue affecting electoral democracy in Africa.
Often in many African countries, the opposition has been hopelessly fragmented and disorganised. Some of the opposition leaders are themselves closet dictators, exhibiting the same tyrannical propensity they so grudgingly denounce in the leaders they hope to succeed. Many are too obsessed with political power and are monstrously intolerant of criticism. It is correct to state that some of Africa’s opposition leaders have endured episodes of gross personal suffering under repressive regimes: detention without charge, police brutality, torture, exile, loss of earnings, loss of property and other forms of harassment. However, this may sound callous, but that does not give them ownership rights over the presidency of the country.
Secondly, in order to avoid political paralysis as happened in Kenya and other political hotbeds in Africa, there should be a truly independent electoral commission running elections without interference from the State. The role of election observers should also be widened to include their involvement from voter registration to vote counting. For as long as the State plays an unnecessarily huge role in running elections in Africa, it will take a long time before problems of free and fairs elections and political legitimacy could be resolved.
Thirdly, serious consideration should be made to the process of proportional representation in the legislature. This system may not be the best form of representative democracy but at least it makes everyone a winner of course with different magnitudes of power.
In the case of Kenya now, it may be necessary given that there is no outright winner to have a second round of presidential elections for Kibaki and Odinga and whoever wins should be declared president. It is true that the Kenyan situation could as well be a precedent in forthcoming elections in Zimbabwe, Angola and Malawi this year and 2009.
As such, the successful resolution of the election dispute in Kenya may help to create the necessary conditions for peaceful elections in the above countries. I believe that democracy is a process not an event and what happened in Kenya should be seen as a big lesson which every African country needs to learn from, so that the rest of Africa can develop to greater heights albeit there being pockets of resistance especially in Zimbabwe, Somalia, Swaziland and a few others.
Finally, many BBC viewers would be interested to see Archbishop John Sentamu, cutting another ribbon on live television only to wear it again once Mwai Kibaki has stepped down, an example of consistency.
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