In my opinion, the Kenyan elections were neither valid nor credible. Even having received the label of “free and fair” by various election observers, there were too many aggravating factors that would make us think otherwise: the fact the head of the IEBC ITC was tortured and murdered just days before the election, the fact that votes took 4 days to count (compared to France’s mere 8 hours), the fact that the opposition’s IT and political consults were deported just a day before the election took place, and at $25 spent per capita, this was the most expensive election in the world that certainly did not deliver on the transparency and accountability it ought to have guaranteed. The recent decision by the Supreme Court supports this judgement, and it is almost laughable to think that independent observers would call this “free and fair”.
“They say power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely. In light of the recent Kenyan election cycle, many of us are left feeling despondent, angry, and frustrated with the seeming inability of leaders – both in the current government and opposition parties – to put aside their political hubris, despotic tactics, and short-sighted selfishness, and do that which they are mandated to do: to serve the people.
I could spend my time bemoaning the outcomes of the recent election, what with the $25 per capita spent on the entire process (making it the most expense electoral process in the world), the torture and the murder, the disappearances, the media censorship, and the general distrust all round – but by now we are well aware that the events leading up to and following the 8th of August 2017 were neither free nor fair. The recent decision by the Kenyan Supreme Court to nullify the elections was a reflection on this, and we can take away some hope that there are those in power who will not stand aside as the demagogues try to have their way.
The truth is that these are all symptoms of a much deeper rot in Kenyan politics, and Africa in general. What we really ought to ask ourselves is what kind of political culture allowed these events to occur in the first place.
There is a deep mistrust in Kenyan politics – trust between politicians, trust between opposition parties, trust between people and the government, and trust for the electoral system as a whole. History plays a part here – people still suffer from the memory of the election violence of 2007 (where as many as 1400 people died), and conceding power is something that politicians seem to struggle with.
The only way to change this culture is for citizens to take action to hold their governments to account. People are clearly not happy with the confusion, censorship and general chaos that characterized this past election. The question now is, “What do we do about it?” When the next election is held, how will we prevent the same things from happening?
The first thing is that we need to push for more transparent handling of the electoral process. Independent observers who have in depth knowledge of the system need to be brought on board early on. Thorough investigation needs to be carried out on voting days and the days thereafter. Media censorship cannot be tolerated. A pillar of democracy is people’s freedom to express themselves. If you remove this, you have undermined the whole operation.
Secondly, with this freedom, comes the responsibility of active citizenship. Kenyans themselves need to play a part in bringing about the free and fair elections they desire. Here technology is a huge advantage. In 2007 and 2008 Ushahidi emerged, an open source tracking system which translates from Swahili into “testimony”. There were 8 million mobile users in 2007; today that figure is just shy of 40 million. Mechanisms to report irregularities or election violence need to be accessible to all.
The election process could do with a lot of tweaking, but ultimately people will play the biggest part in demanding peace and justice. Political discourse amongst citizens during this past election was what drove critique and scrutiny, and played an integral part in driving the momentum which ultimately led to the recent Supreme Court ruling.
With a new poll set for October 17, the future of Kenya lies in the hands of Kenyans. Will you play your part?”
Identity politics works in such a way that people group together based on what they have in common. In Kenya, this goes by one’s ethnic group. The only way to ever transcend the tribalism that is ravaging Kenyan politics is to unite people based on other grounds – the fact that they are Kenyan. This takes a concerted effort by government, schools, and communities alike. All public rhetoric must be Kenyan-centered and media needs to play its part in changing the dominant narratives of tribalism.
The external observers may have played a minor part, but ultimately, they did not have power to control peripheral events regarding the election, e.g. murders and deportations. Now that the Supreme Court has nullified the elections, there needs to be an overhaul of people in the IEBC who were suspected of foul play. There need to be watchdogs on the ground who are active right now and will continue to monitor events well after the election has passed. Access to media must not be limited in any way, and in fact should be encouraged so that people can be a part of the transparency process.
Hopkins, C. (13 February 2013). How technology is shaping the decisive Kenyan elections. Aljazeera.
Masakhaila, Alan. (30 November 2011). Focus on Tribalism in Kenya. openDemocracy.
Nyabola, Nanjala. (18 August 2017). What Kenyan Voters Got for the $500m Spent on Elections. Aljazeera.
Sambuli, Nanjira. (5 September 2017). Can Kenya Pull off a Second Election Within 60 Days? Aljazeera.