What you need to know:
Many Africans think that continuing our failed efforts is better than seeking help from foreigners, especially those from former colonial masters
Letter to a Kampala Friend
Writing about this year’s presidential election in Kenya was akin to chasing a bouncing, curving tennis ball. Now you see it. Now you don’t. Signs of hope. Signs of despair. Not because of who was leading, but because of the cumulative evidence of fraud within the work of the misnamed Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
What started off well months ago, ended in the cesspool of the usual shenanigans by politicians and election managers incapable of trusting citizens to choose their own government. The people of Kenya did their part. They listened to the candidates. They went to the polling stations. They cast their votes, then went back to their homes, trusting that their ballots would determine their next ruler. Then the IEBC took over.
There is a whole tribe of people who live according to a statement, ascribed to Joseph Stalin, the late dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), that: “I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how.”
Whereas there is no evidence that Stalin uttered those words, whoever coined them, foretold the fate of countries like Kenya whose governors are chosen by a small group of greedy men and women that employ creative accounting to determine the fate of the country. Add a few thousand here, subtract ten thousand there, replace legitimate returns, or corrupt computer entries, and you get your candidate into power.
By its own admission, the IEBC confirmed that electoral rigging occurred during the tabulation of the results. No, they did not call it “rigging.” It was an “error.” IEBC Commissioner Justus Nyang’aya announced that in a Kiambu constituency, they had “erroneously” given 10,000 (ten thousand) votes to William Samoei Ruto, the Kenya Kwanza candidate for president.
Initial figures showed that Ruto had received 51,050 votes. It was not until Kenyan journalists added up the numbers that the IEBC accepted that the correct figure was 41,050. Now, imagine similar “errors” of the same magnitude in 40 constituencies. The beneficiary would have gained a bonus of 400,000 votes, enough to give him a very comfortable majority and the keys to the State House.
To err is human, of course. However, the IEBC, which was partly responsible for the disastrous elections in 2017, did not seem to have learnt lessons from their earlier failures. Their behaviour this time round did not give Kenyans and friends of Kenya the confidence that the IEBC really cared about democracy in their country. They made enough “errors” to make one suspect that they were either incompetent or irredeemably inclined to fiddle with the electoral process in the interest of one of the candidates. Obviously not all IEBC staff were responsible for the mess, but the organisation’s failures naturally taint all that work for it, especially the commissioners and the senior management team.
Kenya is not alone in this cesspool of anti-democratic practice by those in charge of invigilating political contests. Indeed, the IEBC’s performance was better than that of their counterparts in some countries where there is little pretence about which presidential “candidates” they work for. Nevertheless, the behaviour of the IEBC has reinforced my view that we should divest the responsibility for managing and conducting elections from locals and seek help from experts in the mature democracies and seriously democratizing countries.
This suggestion does not apply to countries whose rulers have no interest in democratizing. Theirs are modified military dictatorships that employ beating up, incarcerating, or killing opponents to ensure their own success in their sham elections. Such countries use bribery, fear, and force to create lopsided playing fields that disallow competition. They should seriously consider abandoning their fake elections, save the money and let their rulers run their dictatorships until they tire of the foolishness and recognise that freedom is the central driver of sustainable peace and development.
It is countries like Kenya and Tanzania, which appear to be seriously trying to democratize, that should invite the Commonwealth of Nations or the United Nations to take over the management and conducting of their national elections.
The Commonwealth should organise and fund expatriate teams with membership from Australia, Botswana, Canada, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Mauritius, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Alternatively, the United Nations can do the job, adding countries like Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Netherlands, Norway, Japan, Senegal, and Switzerland to the above list.
These expatriate teams would literally constitute the electoral commissions and election security oversight, and recruit expatriate elections officers and returning officers to man the entire operation down to the polling station, including control of the ballot boxes. Yes, we are talking about thousands of expatriates, just like it was in the pre-independence days. We needed them then to prepare us to manage our schools, hospitals, and other areas of the civil service. We need them now to teach us something that was overlooked during Britain’s hurried exit from her colonies and protectorates.
These expatriate teams would be mandated to have two or more local understudies for each role, with a brief to train them not only in procedures, but, more importantly, in the ethics and morals of their roles. The understudies would be recruited by the expatriates, not appointed by the local politicians. This dependence on expatriates would not be limited in duration. They would be phased out only when there are enough locals judged to be professionally, ethically, and morally ready to organise and conduct free and fair elections. My guess is that this would take a minimum of 50 years before we can do it right.
Our egos often get in the way of common-sense actions that would serve our interests. Many Africans think that continuing our failed efforts is better than seeking help from foreigners, especially those from former colonial masters. Interestingly, we take pride in speaking their languages and in carrying European names. We gladly receive their aid in cash and materials. We copy many of their habits, though not always the good ones. Why, we are even more crazy about their soccer teams than we are about our own!
We should not hesitate to seek foreign help in the single most important process in which we have consistently failed. To acknowledge our failure is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength and maturity.
Mulera is a medical doctor.