HomeEditorial CommentLessons from Kenya’s elections

Lessons from Kenya’s elections

The Kenyan elections have finally ended; they were quite bruising in a lot of ways but they have had a positive ending.

From the Editor’s Desk with Nevanji Mdanhire

As Zimbabwe approaches its own polls, with first the constitutional referendum this week and then the harmonised general elections later in the year, one or two lessons may be learnt.

The most important is that a country can hold an important election with little or no violence at all. It is universally accepted that no election can ever be totally violence-free; electoral violence happens in the US elections and in UK elections too, but the incidents of violence are isolated.

In Kenya only one incident was really noteworthy.

After the violence that came in the aftermath of the 2007 elections that left more than a thousand people dead, the Kenyans have shown they have learned their lesson. This was mainly thanks to the leadership of the political parties that saw the folly of using violence as a campaign tool.

Zimbabwe can emulate the Kenyan example if the political leadership also learns this lesson. But this seems not to be the case going by the violence we have witnessed in the past month. we have seen that even when President Robert Mugabe preaches peace, his cronies still act otherwise.

The incidents we have seen so far indicate that violence can be inter-party and intra-party as well. Headlands experienced the ugliest face of political violence when arson was used resulting in the death of a 12-year-old lad in a fight between two political formations.

In Hurungwe, a seating member of parliament was assaulted by members of her own party. what this suggests is that political violence is seen by part of the leadership as a crucial weapon in gaining and retaining political power.

Kenya had to learn the folly of this through the indictment of one of its big political players by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Uhuru Kenyatta who has won the presidential elections has been summoned to stand trial at The Hague after allegedly leading the violence that followed the 2007 elections.

African politicians have always taken advantage of the impunity that came with winning elections through violence. Even if he is eventually found to be innocent, the mere embarrassment of having to stand trial must have restrained a lot of politicians with an inclination towards violence.

In Zimbabwe impunity still exists, hence senior politicians can still encourage their supporters to engage in violence because they know they will get away with it.

The impunity comes through because the institutions that should enforce the law have become sickeningly partisan. The police tend to look away when certain politicians commit crimes while acting swiftly to apprehend others when they commit similar crimes.

If Zimbabwe’s political leadership sends a clear message that there won’t be any impunity by having perpetrators of political violence and their sponsors apprehended without fear or favour, the country would have taken the first major step towards holding violence-free elections.

Another lesson that can be learnt is that people are ready to vote when they are assured of the transparency of the voting process; Kenyans stood in lines for up to 10 hours at a time in order to cast their ballots. There was little suspicion that the person behind them in a line was spying on how they were going to vote. There was therefore no threat of reprisals. Kenyans created the right atmosphere in which people could freely exercise their democratic rights.

In Zimbabwe, there is always the suspicion that the voting process is not totally secret, that someone has got a way of telling how people have voted and that there would be reprisals. as long as this sense of foreboding is not eliminated, elections in Zimbabwe will never be truly free and fair. voters need the assurance that their vote is secret and safe.

which brings us to another important lesson to learn from Kenya. Whereas Kenya went a long way in ensuring that the voting atmosphere was conducive to a free and fair election, they forgot that they had to ensure the counting process was also watertight. there shouldn’t be any room for doubt.

when it came to the counting of the ballots, Kenya failed in a very embarrassing way. to say at that late stage that the electronic counting system failed because of power problems is to show that they underestimated the importance of the process of counting.

the staggering number of seemingly spoilt votes was great cause for concern; to explain this by saying the system multiplied each spoilt vote by a factor of eight (whatever that means) was shocking to say the least.

Zimbabwe should seriously look at this so it doesn’t happen. the referendum this week should be used to plug any holes that might emerge in the general elections.

Problems seen in the Kenyan counting system should be avoided because they lead to lots of doubt as to  the validity of the figures the electoral supervising board eventually pronounces.

The doubt can easily lead to panic and despondency because it is usually accompanied by conspiracy theories as happened in Kenya where some political groupings were beginning to suggest foreign interference in the process.

Importance should be placed equally on the pre-election period, the voting process itself, the counting of the ballots and the announcement of the results. placing emphasis on one of these at the exclusion of the others is a recipe for disaster.

The Kenyan elections almost flopped because of this. As we went to press yesterday, one of the presidential contestants was threatening to appeal against the result at the supreme court because of the failure of the enumerating process.

another important lesson is that outside influence can never influence how people vote; people know what they want and who they wish to be ruled by. If outside interference could influence how people vote surely Kenyans would have voted for Kenyatta’s main rival Raila Odinga.

We are all aware that some countries, especially in the West, would have preferred another candidate because of Kenyatta’s pending trial at the ICC.

The US and the former colonial masters loudly voiced their reservations of Kenyatta but that counted for nothing when it came to voting. in Zimbabwe there is immense acrimony between parties with one accusing the others of being puppets of the West. this is a message used now and again at campaign rallies in order to denigrate certain political players.

The Kenyan election has shown that no outsider can influence how people vote.

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