- At the East African Community (EAC) headquarters, preparations are underway to send an observer team as usual. But officials here have already spelt out their verdict – suggesting that this year’s election in the neighbouring country is bound to be more charged – and a bit worrisome than the past ones.
Arusha. With less than two weeks to go to what has turned out to be yet another fiercely-contested battle pitting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, seeking a second term, against his archrival Raila Odinga, anxiety over the August 8 general election is increasingly gripping Arusha.
At the East African Community (EAC) headquarters, preparations are underway to send an observer team as usual. But officials here have already spelt out their verdict – suggesting that this year’s election in the neighbouring country is bound to be more charged – and a bit worrisome than the past ones.
On a more optimistic note, the regional bloc’s observers do not generally anticipate the likelihood of a repeat of the violence and killings that rocked the country in the aftermath of the tightly-contested 2007 general election. But they are still concerned that given the tight race for presidency, there is no ruling out a spate of violence should the results be contested.
Their worries are neither isolated not farfetched.
Already the European Union (EU) and other international observers as well as some donor countries have expressed their concerns over the likelihood of violence on the premise that it is highly unlikely that none of the two main camps, Jubilee and Nasa, would simply accept defeat.
“It is no secret that there are concerns about the possible outbreak of violence. This is not inevitable,” said Marietje Schaake, head of the EU Election Observation Mission, as she promised “an honest and impartial assessment” of the coming vote.
With violence “everybody loses,” said the Dutch member of the European Parliament.
The initial 30-strong EU team is among a host of international and national observers being deployed across Kenya ahead of the vote.
Also early this month, advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it had received reports of threats and voter intimidation in Naivasha, a flashpoint town in 2007 and one of the potential hotspots in this year’s election.
“All Kenyans should be able to take part in free and fair elections ... without fear of violence,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at HRW, calling on authorities to investigate the allegations.
And analysts at the EAC secretariat are closely monitoring the situation, praying for peaceful elections this time round, despite the growing anxiety. They don’t want a repeat of the 2007/2008 chaos over the disputed results, which put Kenya on the verge of civil war.
Although dates for general elections in Kenya have been known for months, the preceding weeks to the voting day (August 8th) as well as the election aftermath, have impacted or will slightly affect EAC activities.
One of the effects of the politicking and wrangling that has heavily characterised this year’s poll – the sixth general election in Kenya after the restoration of multi-party system – is the absence of one the most prominent EAC organs, the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala). The fourth assembly of the legislative arm of the EAC could not be re-constituted because Kenya is yet to pick its candidates due to the elections and wrangling between the ruling and opposition parties on the modalities to elect candidates for the Eala posts.
As it stands, the EAC observer mission to Nairobi will be short of Eala members among its ranks because none of the candidates picked by the four countries, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan, have been sworn in. Rwanda has also not picked Eala MPs and will be going to polls on August 4.
Eala is not likely to resume operations possibly until the end of the year or early next year because even after the elections, it will take time for Kenya as well as Rwanda to settle down and pick their members for the regional assembly.
“The Community will launch observer missions in the two partner states: Kenya and Rwanda,” the secretary general Liberat Mfumukeko affirmed during a recent visit to Kenya for talks with senior United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNoN) officials.
But for the Arusha residents, the situation is a bit worrying on three fronts: the possibility of rigging, fears of violence due to disputed results and the manner by which the election pattern is taking place along tribal lines.
Petro Ahham, who runs an environmental non-governmental organisation based in Arusha called Meso, takes us back on the nature and facts of the Kenyan politics ahead of the much-awaited August 8 polls.
Although many people want to liken this year’s polls to the 2007 (by then the incumbent Mwai Kibaki against the ODM flagbearer Raila), he sees things to be different this time.
“Back then people had to cast their votes on three ballot papers. This time it is six papers,” he told The Citizen, adding that this has slightly changed the election pattern in Kenya because votes cast at the grassroots level may not necessarily reflect national or presidential votes.
However, Mr Ahham’s major concern is on the tribal element in the on-going campaigns. “You cannot independently think and campaign on tribal lines because this is undermining democracy,” he said.
He also has fears over rigging, doubting the independence of the electoral commission as is the case in many countries in Africa. This time round it is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which is overseeing the polls in Kenya.
He challenged the electoral body to put in place a system that will make it impossible to rig. Yet he remains skeptical that the losing aspirants of various political posts would concede defeat.
William Makali, a community development expert, emphasised that the rule of law must prevail in the Kenyan polls in case of grievances and irregularities found during the voting exercise.
He argued that violence anticipated in some quarters cannot be prevented as long as politicians and their parties are not willing to put their personal interests aside for the sake of saving the lives of ordinary Kenyans and property.
“The way we know most of our politicians, they can do anything at the expense of their own people in order to grab power,” said Mr Makali, who runs an NGO called Senett.
All about democracy
Mathew Mollel, a tour operator, whose vans ply the Arusha-Nairobi route, said elections were all about democracy. He urges Kenyan leaders and those managing the polls to respect the voters’ choice.
He said in order to avoid the repeat of violence, which have been seen in past elections in the East African country, the exercise should be free, fair, peaceful and credible, short of which the country can plunge into chaos.
“Kenyans are our neighbours. When you’re happy, your neighbour is also happy. If there is fire, it’s a scare to the entire neighbourhood. Let’s pray for them to hold peaceful elections and accept the outcome provided the exercise is democratic”, he said.