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The Flawed Elections in Kenya

By Matunda Nyanchama, PhD

January 5th, 1998

Elections are over in Kenya with President Arap Moi and his party Kanu declared winners. It was a controversial poll punctuated by accusations and counter accusations of rigging. This was the most fumbled of all Kenyan elections. Admitting this, the Electoral Commission extended the polling for an extra day with actual voting lasting longer than that. While many people, among them local observers, have accepted the result, despite expressing misgivings, it is important to ask whether the result was a true reflection of the will of the people.

Were these elections free and fair?

The elections were bedeviled with problems as Kanu manipulated the exercise to its advantage right from the point go. In retrospect, Matiba’s words may have been prophetic when he said that there was no way Moi and Kanu were going to even the playing field. In Matiba’s view, which many now share, the elections were pre-rigged.

There is term called gerrymandering in which constituency boundaries are altered to determine particular outcomes. The Electoral Commission did go around the country soliciting for views on new constituencies and their boundaries. Finally what the Commission effected, in a number of cases, hardly tallied with residents’ wishes. The opposition suggests that pro-Kanu areas received the lion’s share or new constituencies while deserving areas with larger populations failed to get their wishes. The pro-Kanu Electoral Commission apparently knew what tune to sing to for it knew it source of livelihood!

New Identity cards (IDs) became another issue affecting the outcome. It was reported that only those with new IDs could register as voters. This was at a time it was very difficult to get new IDs. Not only were many people unable to exchange their old IDs with news ones, but also a number of youths that had come of age were shut out. Clearly, a number of voting-age young people failed to register because they did not have IDs. And even when the government never came up with a clear policy on this issue, the publicity that went with it must have left out a substantial number of potential voters. (With respect to young voters, it is suspected that Kanu feared that these would vote largely for the opposition; the party ensured that many were kept out. What is more more, there were allegations that the targeted areas were those perceived to be opposition strong-holds.) A number of people have argued that any piece of identification such as passports, driver’s licences, etc. should be used for registration. The government has yet to respond to this.

So much for IDs. Now came the time for voter registration. This process was designated to last just thirty days. However, it was extended for another two days, after widespread outcries for a reasonable extension! Why this had to be so, only Kanu and Moi know. The two extra days were a clear disregard for common sense. How many more people could register in those two days? It is clear that not all intending voters registered as the period was too short and things too hushed! No one had explained why voter registration should be a one-time exercise as opposed to being a year-round process.

There were also allegations of continued voter registration past the set deadline in especially pro-Kanu areas. As well, there were claims from a number of people, including the president, that there were fake voters’ cards in circulation. Not one person has been prosecuted for this offense to date. We may never know how pervasive these crimes were given government’s lack of will to investigate and prosecute culprits. Lack of will to take steps creates suspicions that the government was behind the fake cards scam.

There is more. The IPPG deal provided for the appointment ten new commissioners proposed by opposition parties. This did happen. Nonetheless, some parties, notably the Raila Odinga’s National Development Party (NDP), were never given the chance to make their nominations. It was argued that since the party did not support the IPPG deal, then it had no right to benefit from the same. That is Kenyan democracy for you. It is like saying that when one opposes a law in parliament, then s/he should not be subject to that piece of legislation, just because s/he opposed it!

Yet another issue on commissioners: Many of the parties given the chance to make nominations took the chance to nominate their own kin and friends. For example, George Anyona of the Kenya Socialist Congress nominated his own brother for appointment to the commission! This is the same Anyona that made a name criticizing the Moi and Kenyatta administrations for corruption, nepotism and patronage! What irony!

Even with the opposition nominating candidates for the commission, the president had a final say on who to appoint and who not to. The IPPG deal should have incorporated a mechanism for the scrutiny and possible rejection of unsuitable candidates for the EC. Instead, it left intact presidential powers to appoint commissioners. Little had changed. Indeed, the president used the opportunity to cultivate favours with amenable opposition parties.

Prior to the elections, the Kenyan Coast was hit by violence that targeted residents with roots from upcountry and seen as supporting the opposition. The violence was especially puzzling, especially considering the region’s importance to Kenyan tourism and hence the economy. It will take a long time for the industry to recover from this senseless trauma. That notwithstanding, the effect was to displace a number of people that would otherwise have voted for the opposition. As it is now, the act was done at a huge cost to the economy.

Simply said, prior to the dissolution of parliament and call for the General Elections, there were enough irregularities with the exercise.

And then came campaign time and elections, one of the most violent periods in the country’s history. Campaigns were punctuated by clashes, Kanu vote-buying in opposition areas, intimidation, abduction and detention of Kanu opponents, among others. In Mathioya, supporters of Kanu Secretary General John Joseph Kamotho, burnt his opponent’s car. In Kitui Central, Presidential Candidate Ngilu’s home, a presiding officer was caught red-handed with a number of partially burnt voters’ cards as well as a number of presidential ballots. The man never explained what he was doing with the material! All these could be a tip of the iceberg of the election farce!

A number of polling stations received fewer ballots that the registered voters. Of concern are claims that, especially presidential ballots were largely in short supply in opposition strong-holds. This left a number of people to vote for Mps and councillors but not their favourite candidate for president! Clearly, holding the three-tier elections in one go is too wieldy an exercise. The Daily Nation is right to call of the running of these on separate occasions as happened in 1974 and before.

The EC also did more. Just as there were few presidential ballots in opposition strong-holds, there were mix-ups in delivered ballots, failure to open polling centres in time and a total collapse of logistics of the whole of the election process. In fact even after a 24-hour extension some stations had not received papers while in other place word about the extension never reached. Indeed, by that time many people had given up! We will never know how they would have voted.

It is also reported that in a number of places voting went beyond the mandated 24-hour extension. Why this was allowed has not been explained. However, it is clear that the whole process was a fiasco occasioning the Daily Nation to term it a “national disgrace”. And a national disgrace it was indeed, a verdict that should have led to the rejection the result.

Kenyans heard more tales. There was ballot box commandeering by Kanu agents and in the process, it is suspected, more rigging took place through tampering and ballot stuffing. It is notable that even when a number of people were caught with blank ballots, obviously intended for stuffing, little has been done about the incidents. Again, the number of cases reportedly associated with such conduct was large. It is possible that a lot happened than was reported by the media.

More scams would happen during the counting. A clear case is that of Westlands in which Kanu supporters could not accept an outcome that saw Moi getting fewer votes than Kibaki. In rejecting the returning officer’s verdict, there was fighting that saw the GSU intervening, an act captured by TV cameras and broadcast worldwide. The drama was repeated with the parliamentary poll where Kanu’s Fred Gumo was declared the winner by a scared election official. There are reports that similar happening took place, especially in Gusii where opposition candidate vote numbers were switched to give Kanu the win!

Local monitors have catalogued what was wrong with the poll. They have found a litany of errors, mainly of commission. All the same, they endorsed the election.

Three major opposition parties, meanwhile, have called for a repeat of the presidential election in the next 21 days saying that it was impossible for Moi to win. However, they fail to see the key faults with the exercise should they have won!

The National Constitutional Executive Council (NCEC), the body that led the agitation for constitutional reforms prior to the elections, has called for annulment and formation of a government of national unity that will oversee the revision of the constitution, a process that would last two years before a fresh poll. The Kenyan Human Rights Organization, on the other hand, has called for a government of national unity while Safina, a party that had been denied registration until just prior to the exercise, has asked for the acceptance of the result suggesting that the priority should be reforms that should take place over a two year period before another election.

Going by the reports from the press, local and international monitors, on problems that bedevilled the elections, the integrity of the whole election remains wanting. Clearly, given the misgivings from all quarters, including Kanu, about the conduct of the elections, the process should have been declared null and void. This did not happen. It will never happen and for a number of reasons.

Even with potential legal challenges to the vote, there is unlikely to be annulment given the compromised judiciary headed by a disgraced judge and former head of the electoral commission. On the other hand, the legal process is painstakingly slow; it could be another five years before courts reach a verdict!

It is unlikely that Kanu and Moi who have an upper hand in political power can accept a process that may challenge that power. Should the opposition and other movements insist on annulling the vote, there is likely to be civil strive. It could be the reason the monitors chose to accept the vote; they preferred “stability” to potential chaos with the rejection of the result. The credibility of the opposition is also a factor, in our view. They fail to make a convincing argument when they come together very late after the fact while they had a good five years to prepare. Their protests are a mirror image of their reaction in the last general elections. This is exactly what they did after an equally controversial election five years ago. In that exercise that forms a mirror image of current results, the president obtained 36% (40% in the 1997) of the popular vote against 64% for the combined opposition. If only they had united, they argued. Yet over the five years before the recent elections, unity among these parties became elusive. It is likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. On this basis, the newly found unity in the call for a poll in the next 21 days is likely to fizzle and once again it will be business as usual. Opposition unity, as in 1992, will continue to be a mirage and with this, many Kenyans’ aspirations will remain unfulfilled for a long time to come.

What is likely to happen, however, is that Moi and Kanu will soldier on (he was sworn in today January 5, 1998), regardless of the disparate voices from the opposition. Few will believe the president when he calls for a “new beginning”. It is difficult to see how to realize that new beginning with an archaic, corrupt political system that has been Moi’s hallmark since coming to power.

For now the greatest losers are ordinary Kenyans who saw December 29, 1997 as a time to exercise their constitutional rights of voting. They trooped in large number to polling stations. Many could not do so while for others, their vote did not count. Kenyans must be wary of the country we are building when basic democracy is thwarted by conniving, bribery, intimidation and open rigging. What reason does the common person have to believe in the process? Yet, the economy remains battered, the infrastructure dilapidated, corruption entrenched as ever before, education system remains in doldrums while hospitals have neither medicines nor sufficient staff. If Kenyans though they have a chance for a new beginning, let them brace themselves for hard times to come for as we know, the leopard is incapable of changing its skin!

And there we go for another five Nyayo years! Peace, Love, Unity my foot!

Copyright © 1998 Matunda Nyanchama. All rights reserved.

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