Saturday, April 25, 2009



APRIL 25, 2009
By Juma Kwayera

Reconciling the records of the Registrar of Persons and the voters’ roll will in future enable Kenya escape the spectre of ghost voters, one of the most bizarre findings of the probe into the conduct of the disputed 2007 presidential poll.

Speaking to The Standard on Saturday, a day after South Africa went through what international monitors hailed as one of Africa’s most democratic, peaceful, free and fair elections won by the African National Congress (ANC) presidential candidate, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, Mr Tony Msimanga, the country’s High Commissioner to Kenya, said the reconciliation of the registers accounts for relatively few incidents of electoral fraud.

"South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) poll registers is linked to Home Affairs one. The Home Affairs registers are a critical database, which the IEC can revert to in the event of doubts or forgeries of any sort. The two registers bear identical information, which minimises chances of fraud," Msimanga observed.


Kenya is grappling with the construction of a new voters roll after the previous one was dismissed by retired South African Judge Johann Kriegler’s commission of inquiry as outdated and prone to manipulation. The commission, which looked into the conduct of the disputed 2007 presidential elections, recommended the disbandment of the electoral commission, compilation of a new voter register, and review of electoral boundaries and digitisation of the poll process to restore confidence in the institutions of governance. The recommendations were supposed to be implemented within a year. Although the ECK was sent home, it has not been replaced and country is on the precipice of a constitutional crisis in the event of a vacancy in the Executive. The country’s situation is made even more urgent after Parliament failed two months ago to approve the names of nominees to form the Interim Independent Electoral Commission.

Mr Tony Msimanga South Africa’s High Commisioner to Kenya during the interview on Thursday. [PHOTO: Maxwell Agwanda/STANDARD]

Parliament, which resumed sittings on Tuesday, amid controversy over the composition of the House Business Committee, is expected to repeat the exercise, which if it sails through will set the stage for a fresh start in preparations of the 2012 poll, but more significantly expedite the conduct of by-elections.

Even if the interim poll team is constituted, said Msimanga, it must enjoy the unequivocal confidence of the electorate.

"The South African elections were successful because the election body is independent and the process is transparent. We have put in place systems that work and which are foolproof. If approached, we are willing to help Kenya put behind its election-related chaos," he said.

In past elections, the defunct ECK relied on the "black book" as back-up of its registers. But it has proved not only disastrous but also unreliable as data in it was manually entered and is prone to manipulation.

Against such a backdrop, Msimanga said the country needs to digitise its records "as manual records are problematic."

The South African elections coincided with the opening of the Third session of the tenth Parliament on Tuesday. Business of the national assembly has been dominated by rancour between coalition partners — the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and Party of National Unity (PNU). The bad blood stems from ODM’s recent complaints that their counterparts lack respect and have greed for power. The envoy, who was at the centre of diplomatic frenzy to douse the post-election violence, observed that the political atmosphere in Kenya is highly volatile.

"Kenya needs assistance and South Africa is willing to lend support to institutionalise democracy in the country. Africa cannot afford to see Kenya go the other route," he said.

With South African polls adjudged as one of the freest and most democratic on the continent, the searchlight switches back to Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and more recently Madagascar, where elections and democracy have appear to be stalling, raising fears Africa is sliding back into its chaotic past.

Asked about what to expect of Zuma’s presidency, Msimanga said economic, social and foreign policies will remain largely unchanged. He said the incoming president will build on his predecessor’s policies, which are grounded in the governing ANC party’s manifesto.

"Zuma will continue with ANC policies. He cannot go against party policies that are central to the party’s popularity. We have created institutions that work and it will not be possible for Zuma to come up with policies that are inconsistent with those of the party," the High Commissioner said. He added, "We went though a successful election because we have foolproof systems. Disputes are rare because the process is transparent and IEC is accountable."

Electoral malpractice

Indeed, the only electoral malpractice that was detected in KwaZulu Natal, where violence had been expected, was speedily dealt with when the IEC official was arrested and arraigned in court on Thursday as opposed to Kenya, where the defunct ECK lacked legal backing to prosecute such incidents.

However, in spite of his rollercoaster run to victory, the envoy conceded the new leader still faces a confidence problem from mainly white South Africans and intellectuals who fear he will revert to socialist tenets to appease poor blacks who came out in numbers to repulse the challenge posed by Congress of the People (Cope) party.

Cope split from ANC in expression of solidarity with former President Thabo Mbeki, who was forced to step down by the party in September, last year. The other parties were white dominated democratic alliance and King Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party, whose sheen has dimmed.

"Whites still do not trust Zuma. The new president faces the perceptions that he is a polygamist and a communist, because of the common code he strikes with the poor," the diplomat said.

White South Africans often view Zuma with spite, likening him to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who is reviled in the West for his anti-white land reforms and restitution to the black majority. Zuma has, however, on several occasions spoken candidly against Mugabe’s tyrannical rule unlike his predecessor who preferred "quiet" diplomacy.