Top Stories / 2017 Elections
Monday, 04 Sep 2017 11:38 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
The nullification by Kenya's Supreme Court of the country's deeply flawed presidential election held on August 8 is claiming casualties in the western world, with election obsevers and media organisations being forced to reassess their premature praise for an outcome whose shortcomings were evident to all concerned.
The New York Times, America's leading newspaper in the coverage of international affairs, today apologised to its readers (and in effect Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga) for rushing to endorse the election in which incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner with 54 percent of the vote.
The paper has conceded that the ruling was a rebuke to its editorial page writers who "were too quick to dismiss charges of irregularities, largely out of relief that the Aug. 8 voting had been mainly peaceful and in the hope that disappointment with the results would not lead to the sort of violence that erupted after the disputed 2007 election, in which hundreds of people were killed."
The Times' August 13 editorial called opposition leader Raila Odinga "a perennial loser" and said he had "begun crying foul long before the election commission declared that President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected with 54 percent of the vote to Mr. Odinga’s 45." The editorial labeled Mr Odinga’s well-founded claims of rigging, now affirmed by the Supreme Court, as "unsubstantiated" and alleged that these claims had "touched off rioting in parts of the country, and the violence could spread."
Today, The Times has eaten its words, and in respect to Odinga's claims it says, "The fears were real, but the rush to judgment overlooked, among other things, that the supervisor of a new electronic voting system, Christopher Chege Msando, had been murdered and apparently tortured days before the election."
Just like The Times, the Carter Centre whose lead observer in the election, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, praised the election as helping Kenya make "a remarkable statement to Africa and the world about its democracy and the character of that democracy" also welcomed the ruling. While not blaming Secretary Kerry's judgement, the Centre's press release conceded that the election process could never have been over by the time Kerry endorsed it unreservedly (before the final result was announced).
These reassessments are in reaction to widespread rejection by Kenyans and pro-democracy scholars and activists worldwide who felt let down by the rush by foreign entities to endorse the re-election of President Kenyatta, who is regarded as a western ally despite the deteriorating conditions of life for most Kenyans under his five-year rule.
A recent article in The New York Review of Books summed up the relationship between Kenyatta and the west thus: "Kenyatta, a drowsy-looking bon vivant and the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-independence president, is supported by a powerful network of Kenyan politicians and businessmen, mostly of Kikuyu ethnicity, who have been looting the country for decades. He has aligned Kenya with US policy by, for example, deploying Kenyan forces in AMISOM, the US- and UK-supported African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia."
The conduct of foreign observers has come under scrutiny, with France 24 dedicating coverage to the failures of the system. As part of its research into the failure of what it called the "observer industry", France 24 spoke to Kenyan human rights activist Muthoni Wanyeki, who served as Amnesty International’s East Africa Regional Director during the August election and is currently Open Society’s incoming Africa director, who said. "There’s a problem with the election observer industry. They focus too much on the pre-electoral process and the process of voting. The problems are always with the counting and the tallying. They don’t focus on that enough, they don’t have the resources to look into that”.
Kenya's leading trade unionist Francis Atwoli also told the agency: “You don’t just visit one primary school where voting takes place and make a conclusion that everything is right. I have been an observer in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana, and my experience is that one needs to do a lot of background checks on the electoral system of that particular country before making the final conclusion. The observers did not do their work properly”.
The London-based Financial Times has also censured the observers and held that Odinga was not treated well. "Kerry...commended the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for its work before it had completed it and urged the opposition presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, to accept defeat and 'move on'. In so doing, he appeared guilty of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” to borrow a phrase coined by his own nemesis George W Bush", the paper wrote.
"The supreme court, which has yet to deliver detailed reasoning behind its decision, was right to require higher standards when it noted that the IEBC “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution”. The context of the past two, deeply flawed polls in Kenya is important. On both occasions, Mr Odinga had good reason to suspect foul play. It was doubly important that this time the process was seen to be free and fair," the FT held.
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
SEPTEMBER 3, 2017
The Kenyan Supreme Court’s courageous decision to nullify the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta is a critical first for Kenya and Africa, demonstrating that democratic institutions are capable of acting independently and resolving disputes that in the past have often spilled over into violence.
The ruling was also a rebuke to international monitors and diplomats — and to this page — who were too quick to dismiss charges of irregularities, largely out of relief that the Aug. 8 voting had been mainly peaceful and in the hope that disappointment with the results would not lead to the sort of violence that erupted after the disputed 2007 election, in which hundreds of people were killed.
The fears were real, but the rush to judgment overlooked, among other things, that the supervisor of a new electronic voting system, Christopher Chege Msando, had been murdered and apparently tortured days before the election.
The six-judge Supreme Court, acting on a petition from the challenger, Raila Odinga, ruled that the breakdown of the system in which ballots were to be transferred to a publicly accessible online site rendered the results of the presidential election “invalid, null and void” and ordered another election within 60 days. The court said the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which was in charge of the vote, committed “irregularities and illegalities” in the transmission of results and on other issues. The elections to fill another 1,880 posts were left in force.
The court did not implicate President Kenyatta, who had been declared victor by a comfortable 54 percent of the vote. Mr. Kenyatta, while arguing that the judges had acted against the will of the people, declared he would respect the ruling and called on Kenyans to remain peaceful. That is something both Mr. Kenyatta, who is from the dominant Kikuyu group, and Mr. Odinga, a Luo, must repeatedly demand from their followers as Kenya once again plunges into a charged period of renewed campaigning.
They, and the monitors and observers following the election, must also show that they fully respect and support institutions of democratic governance and the rule of law. We had said after Mr. Kenyatta’s re-election had been initially confirmed that challenging it was a matter of sour grapes that could lead to ethnic strife. But preserving peace is best served by ensuring that democratic rules and institutions are respected, and Mr. Odinga’s charge deserved, and got, full consideration.
The Kenyan Supreme Court has done a major service to democracy and the rule of law, and has provided a needed lesson to international observers.
Jack is a business and society writer at the Kenya Free Press