8 Months To Go, Still Hanging Onto Prayer
The shambles of the 2007 general elections patently warned us that we should never again head into critical electoral contests hanging only onto a prayer. Today, the date of the next elections is still in doubt and, based on a decision that is currently facing electoral challenge, we have barely eight months to go.
Eight months to go and we do not have voters registered because this will have to wait until the judicial resolution of a consolidated dispute about electoral boundaries from which there will certainly be an appeal: meaning even additional delays should be envisaged with regard to voter registration.
Eight months to go and the Independent Electoral Commission has loudly cried foul about the slashing by Parliament of half its budget and warned this will mean that its voter education programme will certainly be scaled back. Now, Kenyans have had a notoriously bad habit of spoiling votes when the electoral contest has traditionally been around three positions – President, Member of Parliament and Councillor. How much will this decision adversely affect the ability of voters to properly cast votes for the six positions now envisaged at general elections under the new constitution?
Eight months to go and the Registrar of Political Parties has taken no action yet on parties that have been proved to have forged their membership rolls; even incorporating names of persons who are publicly known and certified to belong to other political parties. Eight months to go and parliamentarians have been agitating for the repeal of the legal clause that restricts their ability to party-hop willy-nilly.
Eight months to go and political parties have predominantly based their politics on ethnic mobilisation; all of the five major ethnic groups in Kenya predictably have now a political party which they will be largely affiliated with. The rest…well, when did they ever really matter?
Eight months to go and we are hearing strident allegations of state-backed “projects”: these are those who enjoy the support of the current presidential incumbent and are reportedly enjoying all the trappings of state patronage in their endeavour to capture the country’s top seat. Eight months to go and we still have no handle about political campaign financing meaning that even resources derived from organised crime such as drug trafficking and piracy will find their way into our elections.
Eight months to go and there is still no accountability around the rampant hate speech that we have previously experienced and will certainly stir the muddy waters of Kenyan politics. Eight months to go and there is no accountability around campaign bribery and intimidation. Eight months to go and the spectre of electoral violence hovers perilously above; with outbreaks of political violence already being reported in some parts of Northern Kenya, Western, Nyanza, Coast and Rift Valley Provinces. Eight months to go and ethnic militia have not been demobilised; in fact this phenomenon seems to have multiplied with newer formations such as the Mombasa Republican Council now entering the fray. Eight months to go and the threat of terrorism looks to be on the rise: will Kenyans be ready to risk their lives queuing outside polling stations while this threat looms ever larger?
Eight months to go and there has been a complete lack of adequate reforms in the security sector. This means that the same policing attitudes and methods that prevailed during the 2007 post-election conflict and were universally condemned as inept, brutal and draconian will most likely continue. Eight months to go and it is no longer apparent that the appointment of a new inspector general of police will have the desired reformist impact vis-à-vis the forthcoming elections. Eight months to go and the same concerns about the ethnic composition of those leading security sector institutions still ring loudly in our ears. Eight months to go and the Minister for Internal Security and his assistant can all of a sudden die when the four-month old, recently-serviced helicopter they are traveling in suddenly and inexplicably drops from the sky.
Eight months to go and we have a young, untested and untried judiciary; that will surely face a deluge of election petitions and must respond in a time-bound manner. Eight months to go and we are seeing the first attempts by the legislature to interfere with the judicial vetting process mandated by the new constitution in a manner that will certainly resonate badly with regard to the fragile public confidence the new judiciary has been enjoying among Kenyans. Eight months to go and we have completely failed to resolve the mess created by the 2007 elections.
There has been painfully little accountability for those who were behind the violence: the schemers, financiers and perpetrators. We have had to rely on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to engage in actions that we ourselves should have carried out. We are now told that those before the ICC should be allowed to run for the highest office in the land without any thought being paid to the spirit and letter of the new constitution. With eight months to go, how safe are our forthcoming elections if those suspected to have been behind the shenanigans that affected the previous one have not been brought to book and rather, in fact, are central players in it?
It is not that we have not been warned. The Waki Commission warned us that we had lost at least 1,113 lives during the last elections because we were – deliberately or otherwise – reckless about our own lives and destiny. Eight months to go and it seems that all we intend to do is hang onto a prayer. It is not too late: a lot of these issues can be ironed out and resolved. But knowing Kenya, it looks like we are waiting for the last day so that we can throw up our hands in desperate despair; leaving it to the mercies of the Kismet to keep us out of harm’s way. This, as we know, is simply not good enough. Eight months are all we have left.
Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA.