By Jerry Okungu
September 22, 2010
You have to live in a country to know its beautiful and ugly past. Nobody can really tell you the truth about a nation’s political, social and economic state in order to appreciate the scale of its successes and failures unless you have lived there over a period of time. It is the reason the well endowed Western journalists; international agency experts and volunteers such as Doctors without Borders and American Peace Corps end up writing thrilling stories about Africa.
It is amazing how Kenya’s electoral system has undergone massive transformation in just two years. A country that was brought to its knees and on the brink of a civil war due to the excesses of a corrupt electoral can today raise its head and tell the world that yes; we can efficiently manage our electoral system and announce the results in under three hours from any corner of our country.
I was a little school kid when I saw the first manipulated elections in 1966. I was a working class 22 years later when I saw winners in the 1988 elections robbed of victory in broad day light during the queue voting system introduced by Daniel arap Moi that year. I saw candidates with shorter lines declared winners as popular candidates with longer lines declared losers.
However in all these years, I just did not see flawed elections alone. I saw violence, bribery and bad manners openly displayed by both the candidates and the electorate. As the aspirants fell over each other trying to outdo one another at bribing and influencing voters, the electorate sharpened their skills at conning the candidates. Every candidate who came with cash was a winner and they had standard praise songs for them. All they needed was to see a candidate approaching and his name would quickly be inserted into the song! In Nyanza, Nairobi and Mombasa; the story was the same. The youth knew it was harvesting time in election seasons.
This practice became so entrenched that by the time the Single Party system was abolished in Kenya in 1992, it forced the ruling party to print fake 500 shilling notes to buy voters. It was the first time Kenyans came across this type of currency. The public finally nicked-named this currency after the KANU operative that spearheaded Moi’s 1992 reelection.
Ten years later, we seemed to have matured politically to be able to elect a new party with a convincing majority. This feat was partly due to the relative fairness, integrity and independence of the then Electoral Commission of Kenya. For this reason, Kenyans were voted the most hopeful nation in 2003.
However, five years later, the same electoral commission that did Kenya proud in 2002 sunk the country to its lowest pit in political thuggery. The commissioners mutilated the 2007 elections beyond recognition to the extent that even today, nobody knows who won the elections at parliamentary and presidential level. One proof of this mess has come out in the many petitions that were lodged in courts soon after. Of the cases so far concluded, 95% of the 2007 winners were nullified. In these bi-elections, only 7% of the incumbents have been reelected.
Since the old Electoral Commission of Kenya was disbanded in 2008, its predecessor, the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) has conducted six parliamentary bi-elections and one national referendum on the new constitution. In all these cases, just a handful of nine commissioners and a secretariat have shown Kenyans and the world that what can be done in Britain, Germany or United State of America on election day can be done right here in the middle of Africa.
Kenyans have demonstrated that you can conduct an election as transparently as possible where every citizen has an opportunity to follow and tally results from every polling station in real time. It is no longer a secret affair in dark and opaque ballot boxes that are transported by government agents under the cover of darkness. Government agents have been removed from positions of influence and only requested police officers are at polling stations at the command of the IIEC Returning Officer.
Kenyans have shown its neighbors that technology is here to eradicate all the 20th century malpractices that made election rigging the preserve of the ruling class. Vote tallying at the polling station has eliminated the stuffing of ballot boxes in transit to the supposedly tallying centers. Now all tallying centers receive electronic results that will have also been received and seen by all citizens and the IIEC Central Tallying Station.
We in East Africa musty emulate this best practice from Kenya. We need our brother in Uganda and Tanzania to know that questionable victory during national elections have their heavy price that the nation pays at the end of the day. The NRM went to the bush in 1980 when its commanders believed that Milton Obote had rigged the 1980 elections. Kenyans went on the rampage when they decided that enough was enough with election thefts. They burnt homes, businesses and disrupted businesses throughout East Africa. It may not have happened in Tanzania but there is no guarantee that it cannot happen there in the future.
Let us just reform our electoral, governance and democratic institutions to avoid subjecting our citizens to unnecessary civil strife.