Kenya really needs a credible election for peace to prevail

2017 is already past the half way mark and moving towards its most important moments as far as East Africa is concerned. The region is set to have two general elections held in the same month.

2017 is already past the half way mark and moving towards its most important moments as far as East Africa is concerned. The region is set to have two general elections held in the same month. The elections in Kenya and Rwanda are actually only four days apart with Rwandans going to the ballot on the fourth day of August while Kenyans will do the same on the eighth day of the same month.

The Rwandan election is the first one to be held since the 2015 referendum approved constitutional amendments to remove term limits and to shorten them from seven to five years starting in 2014. The election will see the incumbent, President Paul Kagame of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) - Inkotanyi competing with the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda’s Frank Habineza and Phillipe Mpayimana an independent candidate.

 

The National Electoral Commission announced the final list of three names adding that the three other aspirants failed to fulfil the requirements especially the one requiring them to present 600 signatures with at least 12 from each of the 30 districts across the country. Campaigns will now kick off on July 14, 2017.

 

In Kenya it is almost impossible to point to when the campaigns for the August 8, election started. It always feels like Kenyans politicians are on the campaign trail every day of their lives. They use any opportunity to push political messages across. I remember some time last year while on a trip to the Kenyan coast, we bumped into former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka at the fine Diani Reef Hotel. He is now a running mate with Raila Odinga. We sat with him to talk about regional tourism but all he kept talking about was politics that I soon got bored.

 

However this is not the time to get bored with Kenyan politics. We all need to keep an eye on it not only because Kenya is the biggest economy in the region, but because what happens there can affect our lives here in Kigali or Kampala as well as other places in East Africa. I learnt this first hand in 2007 when a Kenyan election was botched and I found myself stuck in Moshi Tanzania because many parts of Kenya were impassable by road.

In 2013, the Kenyan elections went quite smoothly and East Africa didn’t have to suffer. Of course many had already learnt the lessons and moved some of their shipping away from Mombasa port to the Dar es Salaam port. Even the recent decision by Uganda to build an oil pipeline through Tanzania and not Kenya was partly premised on the question of Kenya’s stability.

Now in 2017 the calls for a peaceful election are already in the air with even some politicians pledging to accept the results and maintain peace. Some of these things always serve as reminders of how fragile our democracy is although some may argue that Donald Trump was also asked whether he would accept the results in case he lost. The one that irks me the most is the fact that in 2017 we still have to tell people to vote and ‘protect their votes’ by staying close to the polling stations.

In short, the credibility of such elections is built on ice so thin that ordinary citizens are expected to do what other institutions are paid to do, like protecting the votes from being stolen. There is now some sort of divide in Kenya whenever an election comes along. The ones who call for peace are branded as regime sympathisers bent on stealing the election and expecting the victims to ‘accept and move on’ while those who call for a credible election are thought of as those ready to cause chaos given the slightest disagreement.

Sadly the truth is not so far from that because indeed violence is often sparked by the mistrust around elections as was the case in 2007. Some analysts have even pointed out that elections where there is an incumbent have always been marked by violence in Kenya’s history. This would therefore be a good time to break that sad streak and ensure the elections are credible enough not to give anyone a reason to go for another person’s neck.

Yesterday started off with some shocking news with the sudden death of Kenya’s interior Cabinet Secretary (Rtd) Gen. Joseph Nkaissery. With an election 30 days away and Al Shabaab still active in parts of Kenya, I hope the country remains united and peaceful.

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