Monday, September 11, 2017

TOUGH JUSTICE : Decades on, just why can’t we get elections right?

Justice Novati Rutenge

Justice Novati Rutenge 

By Justice Novati Rutenge justice

Our ancestors were gracious enough to remind us that it is prudent to “prepare our heads when we see our neighbours’ being shaven”. Luckily for us, our dearest neighbor, Kenya, is the perfect benchmark for what can go right or wrong in an electoral process.
Kenya’s 2007 elections were a cautionary tale of how electoral malpractices (call it outright rigging) can divide a country and lead to deep-seated turmoil. Her 2013 elections were an indication of how strong and independent electoral systems and institutions, engraved in the law of the land, have the potential to deliver credible elections.
However, all that remains to learn in the latter example is the potential, as opposed to the reality of the desired efficiency. After making what seemed to be all the steps in the right direction in terms of setting up a foolproof electoral process, just how did Kenya still manage to have botched elections?
This issue is not unique to Kenya. Why can’t African “democracies” get their act together when it comes to the most important routine in the practice of democracy, even after doing it for a few decades?
What’s at stake?
A bit of blame can be apportioned to our poor ability to perceive risk. If one ought to think about the grave consequences a botched election process could have, one ought to ensure strict adherence with laid-out regulations by hook or by crook.
In Kenya’s post-election violence in 2017, more than a thousand lives were lost, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced, essentially because of dissatisfaction with the way the then electoral commission, under the late Samuel Kivuitu, conducted the elections. Also, consider the completely unnecessary cost, as well as the extra social and emotional burden the people of Kenya will have to carry this year to go through a repeat election.
Forget who “the Hague” went for after the 2007 election. The true culprit for such losses should be whoever stands in the way of people exercising their constitutional right to choose the leaders they want, and more often than not, electoral bodies are co-conspirators in such mischievous acts..

Wrong lesson learned
It is now becoming fashionable for African states to heavily arm themselves in order to neutralize any threat that may happen following elections. I, for one, do not believe “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the right kind of mentality for states to go to elections with. If anything, it raises suspicion about the lack of intent to oversee a free and fair election process.
If states can predict that election results will be disputed, aisn’t it more prudent to make a bigger investment towards ensuring the credibility of their election processes? Our states are right to be worried after witnessing post-election chaos happening in other countries, but their reactions suggest that they have learnt the wrong lesson.
Incentives to get it right
Did the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in Kenya have to wait for the supreme court to point out irregularities in the election? If they cared, the commissioners should have known and addressed them before things went out of hand.
Both negative and positive incentives are needed if our countries, which professes democracy, are to begin to treat elections with the sanctity they deserve. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the role of managing elections is an extremely enticing and lucrative one already in most countries, and this is a fitting reward. What lacks though, are negative incentives such as heavy penalties for directing or even condoning electoral malpractices.
Most African countries have a long way to go before they start holding proper and meaningful elections. But who is to lead us there? It is particularly troubling to think that our electoral processes are often managed by some of the most qualified and reputed individuals we have. Clearly, the degree of reflexivity required to treat elections with the sanctity they deserve lacks even in people with the most decorated academic and professional experiences.
In my opinion, it is more of an issue of integrity and patriotism. Until we groom, or somehow magically get a crop of leaders with genuine passion for democracy, our election days will continue to be “national sports days”, at least in disguise.