Thursday, 19 November 2015

The 2017 elections in Kenya - new hope for electoral integrity?

By Ferran Martínez i Coma

Kenya’s electoral integrity has been on the spot in the last two contests. The 2007 election spiraled into violence that left about 1000 dead and almost half a million internally displaced.

Luckily the 2013 election was not violent, yet it was marred by many problems. In fact, as the graphic shows, the elections obtained a very mixed score on the electoral integrity sub-indexes. While the ‘laws’ section was very much praised among the experts – the recent Kenya’s constitution is considered one of the most progressive –, they indicated there were serious problems to do with campaign finance and voter registration.


Following the 2013 elections, political and civil society actors resolved to improve the integrity of the forthcoming 2017 election. A host of actions, policies, activities and events are being organized to share knowledge, discuss strategies and prepare for the 2017 election. The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) was invited by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) to present its comparative work on electoral integrity in Africa and around the world, and to participate in their stakeholder meeting on “Enhancing integrity and public confidence in electoral processes” on 5 November. I travelled to Nairobi to represent EIP here, and also presented EIP’s work on Money, Politics and Transparency at a workshop on “The risks of campaign financing” organized by Strathmore University and the Institute for Ethics, Governance and Law at Griffith University on Tuesday 10 November.

The meeting on November 5th, co-organized by HSF and the Institute for Education in Democracy, was designed to have two program sessions. During the morning session, I presented the report Electoral Integrity in Africa, which was followed by a productive debate that focused on two distinct issues – concrete methodological and substantive feedback on the report, and issues of electoral integrity in Kenya.

To facilitate an open and in-depth debate, the afternoon discussion session of the meeting followed the World Café methodology, in which all participants had their say on a wide range of topics related to the forthcoming elections, including transparency, technology, staff capacity, external forces, legal framework and communications. World Café is a structured conversational process that focuses on exploring and thinking creatively about questions or themes, as opposed to scenarios where discussion is directed towards a predetermined answer or solution. The process also provides an open forum for discussion that aims to equalize the power relationships between participants in order to understand and learn from multiple points of view. This was useful given that the meeting included participants from members of political parties and stakeholders involved in the organization of the elections, to representatives of Kenyans in the diaspora and other citizens’ organizations.

The exercise took the rest of the day and proved to be very productive since the different stakeholders (political party representatives, IEBC members, NGOs and think tanks, etc.), provided different proposals to deal with problems that Kenyan elections have faced in the recent years. This excellent initiative resulted in ‘take home points’ which summarized the contributions of participants and reflected general principles but also a number of concrete measures. Here I would like to that the opportunity to explicitly thank Uta Staschewski, who is the HSF Resident Representative in Kenya and Ethiopia, and her excellent team.

At Monday’s workshop on “The risks of campaign financing” at Strathmore University I presented EIP’s recent work on campaign finance issues in a comparative perspective. The meeting was addressed to stakeholders of the electoral process in Kenya, where campaign finance is a very serious problem, as the above graph shows. The talk addressed three questions: What do Political Finance Regimes look like globally?; What causes countries to regulate and what triggers landmark political finance reforms?; and ‘What works’, what fails, and why – when countries regulate and implement reforms? To answer such questions I relied on an extensive and detailed forthcoming research leaded by Pippa Norris and Andrea Abel van Es, and their forthcoming book Checkbooks Elections? I first explained why campaign finance regulation (CFR) is important, relying on IDEA’s definitions and placing it in the general context of electoral integrity. To demonstrate that CFR is a global problem, I presented original data on the performance of the finance indicators around the world, spoke about current upheaval in Argentina, France, Mexico, Spain, UK, India and Indonesia, and presented worldwide public opinion data on perceptions of campaign finance and spoke about general problems when regulating money in politics. As in the previous event, the audience was engaged and some concrete measures were suggested in order to improve (or at least change) the current state of the funding. For example, it was suggested the possibility of studying deductions in the income tax by donating to political parties. As last January, Professor Charles Sampford and Dr. Peter Odhiambo organized an excellent event.

We will continue to pay attention to the Kenyan elections as well as our cooperation and our work with HSF and other stakeholders. We hope to explore future venues of cooperation in the future.

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