What you need to know:
- There are many lessons to be gleaned from Kenya, even if you start by acknowledging that even that bar is too low
It is the dying minutes of the 2010 World Cup Quarterfinal game between Ghana and Uruguay. The game is tied one all. Win, and Ghana will become the first African country to qualify for the Semis. They lost, in the cruelest of ways.
Ghana won a freekick deep inside Uruguay’s half and nearly scored from the ensuing play. Except, Luis Suarez – he of Liverpool and Barcelona – clears the ball from the line with his hand. It would have ended then, had Asamoah Gyan scored the resultant penalty but agonizingly, he hits the crossbar.
I don’t remember ever watching penalty kicks as nail-biting as those. I couldn’t sit through the experience. Only these last so many hours have brought me close to that feeling and that is thanks to the results of Kenya’s Presidential election. By the time you read this, we shall probably know the winner and barring any last-minute spins, there is likely to be much hubbub from whoever loses.
For all its imperfections, the IEBC, which is in charge of organising the elections and declaring the winner must be commended for making it possible for whoever wants to, to access form 34A and do their own independent tallying. At the very least, we know that whatever disagreements arise – and there will be many – they will likely not be about inability to add ones and twos.
Looking at the two leading candidates exchanging the first position every other hour is great for neutrals but cannot be for those who have staked futures on the result. Even more, reading commentary from experts, nonentities and the uninformed hasn’t helped the situation for most. It actually has you wondering what the Kenyans were saying about Uganda’s elections and tallying process in February last year, when we were forced back into the dark age with the internet blockade.
There are many lessons to be gleaned from Kenya, even if you start by acknowledging that even that bar is too low. In many ways, the fact that the regional economic behemoth organises its politicking around tribal and regional blocks makes it susceptible to levels of electoral tensions that many of her neighbours don’t have to endure.
It is like a yoke around their necks and it helps that with every electoral round, they go out to avoid the ghosts of the past. It is Baganda who say, “Ekijja omanyi kinyaga bitono,” which I guess can be corrupted into “forewarned is forearmed”. Acknowledging their imperfections has made it possible for them to know what to improve – and it shows.
The same cannot be said for most neighbours who wouldn’t know what to improve because they wouldn’t even know where to start even if they wanted to. In fact, it seems easier to pretend that no problems exist or deflect and blame outsiders or even pick fights with them.
For all their electoral organising, Kenya and Tanzania have not supported or even inspired many of their neighbours to follow suit. This can’t be good for them and for the region because it means that with every cycle, those who organise will suffer the incapacitations of those who wallow.
Back to that Ghana-Uruguay game. The 2022 World Cup is about three months away and both Ghana and Uruguay will be in Qatar. What’s peculiar is that a sizeable number of players who were on the pitch that night will still be on Uruguay’s team, while no single player from Ghana’s 2012 squad still plays in any of the top leagues.
Therein is an important lesson on not just thinking about the future but organising and working for and towards it. One organised and built systems to guarantee continuity while the other simply sought quick wins without any long-term gains.
Decades from now, we shall look back at 2007, 2013 and 2017 and gnash our teeth at the losses and mistakes that were made. But we shall be proud of the lessons that were learnt and the outcomes that delivered credible elections – whatever that is worth on the continent. Ironically, Ghana is one of a few countries on the continent which seems to have nailed this election thing.
Whoever ends up as president, let us hope that Kenyans will find joy and pride in this moment in much the same way that Africa did from hosting the World Cup.
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye