Don’t let repression tarnish Kenya’s ‘fairest election’


Credit: NDI

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga is expected to announce his strategy Wednesday for contesting his election loss, having further delayed a decision that could defuse or exacerbate tensions in the country. The 72-year-old insists he is the rightful winner of a “stolen” election which took place on August 8 and handed victory to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, AFP reports.

But if local and international observers are right, Kenya has just staged one of the fairest and most transparent elections in its history, as well as in the recent history of Africa, The Washington Post adds:

On Aug. 8, some 15 million voters went to the polls to elect 1,882 officials, including the president; on Friday, the independent electoral commission announced that incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was reelected with slightly more than 54 percent of the vote. Electoral observers from the African Union, European Union and Carter Center praised the electoral commission’s work, and a local observation group that dispatched more than 8,000 monitors to the polls said its tallies from polling stations were consistent with the official results.

Kenya’s government is attempting to intimidate civil society groups, including a respected human rights organization that announced anomalies in last week’s election, activists said Tuesday:

Kenya’s oversight body for non-governmental organizations announced late Monday it had de-registered the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission. Its leader was among the few election observers to announce it had found anomalies in the vote….On Tuesday, the NGO Coordination Board asked police to arrest directors of the African Center for Open Governance, a non-governmental organization that also was involved in monitoring the elections.

A former expert for the United Nations on the rights to freedom of assembly and association, Maina Kiai (right), said civil society groups are considering whether to present a petition challenging the elections. He also criticized the government for urging people not content with the outcome to go court to challenge the results.

But two days after the polls closed, international observer missions broadly praised the electoral process, the National Democratic Institute adds:

NDI’s delegation issued its preliminary statement, which noted, “The people of Kenya made their voices heard in a peaceful fashion through credible election processes on August 8. The Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) delivered well-managed polls, even though it faced serious challenges in the few months it had leading to the vote. Late openings in many polling places contributed to waits but did not appear to dent the voters’ resolve. Electronic voter check-in technology worked smoothly in the vast majority of polling places, and election officials worked long hours with determination to carry out their duties according to law.”

 “The Kenyan people have a lot to proud of in this election,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), co-leader of the NDI delegation and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “The passionate enthusiasm felt county to county and the overwhelming voter turnout were both inspiring. The notion that Kenyans don’t care about the future of the country is just simply not true. This past election proves the opposite is true.”

For the most part, the elections show how digital technology can help to overcome problems of distrust during the voting process, say analysts Nic CheesemanGabrielle Lynch, and Justin Willis. The rush to declare the presidential result, however leaves a nagging uncertainty over what has been in many ways (the security response aside) an impressive process, they write for Foreign Affairs:

Many of NASA’s claims seem implausible, but the very transparency of most of the system makes these gaps seem all the more significant—a reminder that digital technology in itself may not always ensure credibility in the face of deep-rooted distrust. Swift action by the IEBC to make all the forms publicly available would help to close that gap, quiet claims of malpractice, and ensure that Kenya enters what is likely to be another fierce electoral contest in 2022 from a position of greater strength.

The human rights commission rightly underlined the need for the electoral commission to make the paper tally forms public on its website. It also found that security forces had used excessive force and that Kenyan media had “exercised self-censorship,” The Post adds:

It is up to Mr. Kenyatta, who has been urging citizens to remain peaceful, to stop the excesses of police as well as the apparent pressure being applied to media and nongovernmental organizations. The killing of the election official should be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. Mr. Kenyatta appears to have fairly won a democratic mandate; he should not tarnish it with repression.

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