Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Strengthening Kenyan electoral integrity

The 2007 general elections in Kenya ended in bloodshed and instability, before a power-sharing agreement brokered by the UN eventually restored peace.  The international community has been deeply engaged in attempts to prevent any repeated violence. In the subsequent Kenyan elections of March 4th 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta won with a bare majority (50.1% of the vote). Problems occurred, however, for example the vote count was delayed for five days and the opposition claimed fraud. Nevertheless the contest avoided a repeat of the widespread intercommunal conflict and Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate, appealed through legal channels and asked Kenyans to respect the rule of law. While avoiding violence, PEI experts still rated the contest poorly, especially on issues of voter registration and the role of electoral authorities. [i]

As part of the international efforts to strengthen the quality of Kenyan elections, a workshop was held on “Electoral Integrity: Building electoral integrity through improved electoral processes, representation and the resolution of electoral disputes" on 19th and 20th of January 2015 in Strathmore University, Nairobi. It was organized by the The Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law (a joint initiative of the United Nations University, Griffith, QUT, ANU, Center for Asian Integrity in Manila and OP Jindal Global University, Delhi) leaded by Professor Charles Sampford. The Electoral Integrity Project, represented by Dr. Ferran Martinez i Coma, engaged in the workshop as part of its outreach and dissemination strategy in the international community.

The workshop examined the relevant Kenyan constitutional and legal provisions; the institutional structures; the training of personnel and the establishment of systems seeking to promote electoral integrity at all points of the electoral cycle – comparing them to such systems in other jurisdictions. In that regard, the topics covered included electoral integrity and international standards; patterns of malpractice in other jurisdictions; technological opportunities and pitfalls; procurement; political parties; the gender rule; campaign finance; voter registration; the handling of votes and their calculation; transparency,  accountability, verification, dispute settlement and the strengthening and professionalization of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

The audience engaged some of the main important actors involved in the Kenyan electoral process, such as Commissioners of the IEBC, as well as members of international organizations such as the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA). It was an honest, open and lively discussion.

The Dean Luis Franceschi, introduced the workshop, then I presented on the theory and practice of electoral integrity, following the general framework of the Electoral Integrity Project (Norris, 2014). Different topics were covered: from an overview of the project to the stages of the electoral process. After a brief overview and comparison, Charles Kanjama talked about the political parties in Kenya: how the nomination process works, questions on internal party democracy, and issues of the selectorates. One of the problems in Kenya was the lack party institutionalization (as a proxy for stability). For example,  only the National Alliance party –one in the three composing in the ruling coalition -  was formed in 2000; the rest after 2012.

The workshops also discussed gender issues. Elisha Ongoya talked about the gender representation principle in Kenya’s constitution. Jill Cottrell Ghai, one of the leading experts on Kenyan constitutional and democratization issues, presented data on the number of women in the parliament and engaged the audience in an interesting debate on whether women leadership should be the same as for men or whether women should provide a different kind of leadership.

The second day covered political finance, ethics for the IEBC, and new technologies. Regarding the former, I gave a presentation considering global issues. I based my presentation in the forthcoming work of Pippa Norris and Andrea Abel van Es. Professor Sampford made very relevant remarks on the global perspective and the general principles also presenting some specifics about Queensland. Kwame Owino, from the Institute of Economic Affairs made the argument against public funding for the Kenyan case which was not shared by a part of the audience. On ethics, the country Director of the EISA, Felix Odhiambo, presented some of the ethical standards for the IEBC; his talk was complemented with Francis Kariuki’s on institution building and development of IEBC staff.

Finally, the focus of attention was on technology.  This presentation was a very interesting blend from different perspectives: IEBC, how technology may help to reduce fraud and survey companies. Commissioner Ambassador Yusuf Nzibo, acknowledged the problems that Kenya had in the previous elections with the technology. The Commissioner mentioned the importance of testing the technology well in advance of the election date, which had not been the case in 2013. Emmanuel Kweyu from @iLab presented some initiatives that were being developed with very low costs. Kenya’s technological development is not only referential in Africa but also around the world as some platforms, such as Ushahidi. He also stressed the necessity of testing technology before election-day. The presentation on surveys, by Dr. Wolf, stressed how fraud was perceived differently in the Kenyan regions.

[i] Electoral Integrity Project. The Year in Elections, 2014. Sydney: EIP.

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