Kenya elections: A message for Zambia and Africa

13 Mar

With bated excitement and screaming anxiety, Kenya awaited the Presidential election results. As a matter of fact, Africa and the world at large had their eyes fixated on the East African country.

This was an election that presented an opportunity for redemption, peace and hope. It was a time to instil confidence that indeed a nation could craft and chart its own course, dealing with its horrendous past.

As the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairperson Isaack Hassan stepped up to announce the final results, he carried the hopes of a nation and a resurgent continent.

What happened in Kenya provides insights and lessons that Zambia and the rest of Africa cannot afford to ignore. The message was resounding and the lessons rich.

Let us explore these.

1. Tribalism must be a non-issue

A nation is a composition of different people, tribes and colour. This should be a celebration of diversity and not a cause for division. Lives lost in 2007 stemmed from ethnic conflict and the world watched in shock as Kenyans hacked each other to death.

It may appear from this 2013 election, Kenyans have realised that they ought to stand together even in the face of divergent views and preferences. Yes the divisions still exist but the blood-letting has to a large extent been averted.

Unity and peace must prevail.

2. Leaders serve the people

Every leader must realise the people are the masters. The people’s voice must be heard and their choice respected.

Africa has been subjected to wanton manipulation especially at the hands of politicians. There is a criminal tendency to take citizens for granted. Once in power, the people are the least important item on the politicians’ agenda.

Leaders must be held accountable and discharge their responsibilities with the welfare of the citizenry in mind.

Anything below this is treacherous and a betrayal of the people.

3. Educate! Educate! Educate!

There was immense effort put into driving awareness among Kenyans. This was done in various forms to get them to vote and also uphold peace.

This proactive approach to elections must be continuous and a strategic objective of every Electoral body. This is especially more important for Africa where illiteracy and poverty levels are painfully high, fertile ground for voter manipulation and electoral fraud.

Though the number of spoilt ballots was high, it also served as a glimpse into the opportunity and need for enhanced voter education to attain high participation.

The Government, media and civil society combined efforts in exemplary fashion to achieve this and likewise preach peace. The end result was a jaw dropping and humbling 86% voter turnout, the highest in Kenya’s history.

4. The people rule

Post the 2007 violence, it became evident that the nation needed to heal. One of the key issues to be resolved was the Constitution.

The nation spoke and the people’s will was respected as Kenya adopted the new Constitution in 2010.

It was a constitution that was tested in the March 4 election and indeed it passed with President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta winning the race after garnering 50.07% of the vote, just enough to escape a re-run.

The 50+1 provision has not been the only victory for Kenyans. Through the new progressive Constitution, the people now boast a new decentralised government, effectively a means to redistribute power from the Presidency and Nairobi to the 47 counties to be led by a Governor and local assembly.

It also provides for 47 new seats for women in Parliament among other commendable provisions.

The people spoke and were given the Constitution they approved. This was an inevitable and cardinal step in scoring a successful election and striving for peace.

5. Peace is a choice

The delay in announcing results was a piercing concern. Even when the poll results were announced it was easier to anticipate that any aggrieved party would fuel a recurrence of the 2007 violence.

However, the restraint was impressive even in Raila Odinga’s strongholds. The people showed that they have learned from a bloody past.

Kenyans demonstrated strongly that the election was a victory for peace and a plea for unity.

The people want no more blood shed or lives lost. Politicians must listen to that cry of the people and always strive for and be catalysts of peace, not chaos.

6. No need to make mistakes to learn

Did Kenya need to lose lives to learn? Has Africa learnt anything from this so that loss of life is avoided before improvements are made? Was there need for so much blood to be spilled for a new constitution to be drafted?

Though it is said that mistakes offer rich lessons, it may not be necessary to wait for them to be made before learning. It so happens that the mistakes made elsewhere provide sufficient lessons for others.

Therefore what Kenya has been through between 2007 and 2013 should be all that Zambia and Africa need to learn. To fix all burning issues that can potentially set peace ablaze in flames. It is the responsibility of every individual, more so every leader.

We must now rise and put on a flattering show that will showcase our coming of age as a continent. This is in terms of leadership, democracy and development. This can only be achieved if we set our focus right and determine to deliberately achieve this progress.

7. Media integrity and institutional transparency

The media have been hailed as key stakeholders that helped drive the peace agenda in this year’s polls. Flaws will arise but the fact that there was a push for Kenya to uphold peace speaks volumes of media influence.

Elections must not be a time for partisan positions that stimulate animosity and division. Instead, it is an opportunity for divergence to be celebrated. This is a role effectively played by the media, political parties and civil society including the church.

With the new constitution, Kenya has inevitably invested in its governance institutions. This has presented a fresh start as the nation makes headway in restoring confidence in their institutions. A startling example of this is Raila Odinga’s electoral contest. He has challenged the poll result with assurance that he will respect the decision of the Supreme Court. Odinga’s Cord alliance claimed 11 constituency votes were missing translating into a shortfall of 250,000.

As this credibility is built and confidence restored in institutions such as the Electoral body, the Judicial arm, media and civil society, transparency will be an easy result. Then we can probably see a refreshing drop in disgruntled petitions of election results that seem to be the norm in Zambia and Africa generally.

8. The future is tech

In the 21st century and beyond, technology cannot be ignored. Kenya showed this with an investment in the electronic transmission of results.

All available means must be explored and utilised to enhance the way elections are conducted. This is both in terms of how the elections are managed overall, and also the transmission of results to make them swiftly available.

In this election, the plan was for the electronic transmission of results to the national tallying centre to be real time from all polling stations across the country.

Such initiatives and investments ought to be supported in totality as it has the potential to establish the much needed credibility of African elections.

9. Technology won’t always work

On the flip side though, the use of technology presented unfortunate challenges. It has been stated that a bug was identified which affected vote tallying. This culminated in the number of rejected ballots being multiplied by a factor of 8. The system failed at a critical time due to programming errors and in the end, manual intervention delivered.

As has been famously concluded, it was an election where paper trumped digital.

Following the failure of the Biometric voter identification kits and the crushing of the counting process, questions have been asked. Were the election officials competent enough to manage the system? Was it tested sufficiently before embarking on its full implementation, let alone its purchase?

The fact that it was also affected by the lack of power at some polling stations also speaks volumes about its reliability in the african context. Governments still have work to do to equitably deliver development across their countries. And the system also made it explicit that backup is a necessity in all such situations.

10. We don’t need the ICC

The role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been a topical matter in Africa. Several African leaders have appeared before it hence leading to an impression that it is predominantly designed to persecute African leaders. One persistent and speculative question has been why George W Bush or Tony Blair have never ben summoned for instance.

However, that is not the core of this article. What is at this stage of Africa’s development is the need for her to build capacity. Why do we not have such an instituition under the auspices of the African Union?

Uhuru Kenyatta has been appearing before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. This is in relation to the allegation that he played a part in the violence that resulted in the loss of 1,000 lives with 600,000 people displaced from their homes. He is due to appear in July this year. Whether he will appear now that he is a sitting president remains to be seen.

Africa must now govern herself. She must hold her leaders accountable without the influence or intervention of the outside world especially the west. Africa must be led by Africans, scrutinised by Africans and corrective or punitive action taken by Africans.

The AU must show it is capable of ensuring this in the near future otherwise the consensus will be that it is an impotent and irrelevant body that adds no value to the continent’s march towards progress.

The end game

Kenya has made commendable strides and this election has presented hope. It must be appreciated though that this is only the beginning for the country and the rest of Africa.

As we await the outcome of Raila Odinga’s petition, we must not lose sight of what remains to be done.

Our nations and our beloved continent remain hungry for progress, development and prosperity. This will remain a pipedream and elusive aspiration for as long we breed irresponsible leaders, swim in chronic poverty each day and allow our governance systems to collapse into a quiet demise.

Kenya has led the way up to this stage. We must all pick the mantle and take our countries forward.

Africa’s future depends on that and us.

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Posted by on March 13, 2013 in Opinion, Politics


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