Perhaps we should postpone the March General Election

Kenya could as well postpone the March elections. Last week’s party primaries made one thing crystal clear. Kenya is ill-prepared to conduct free and fair elections in March.

Saturday January 26 2013



Kenya could as well postpone the March elections. Last week’s party primaries made one thing crystal clear. Kenya is ill-prepared to conduct free and fair elections in March.

No one, and no single institution, is ready for the elections. Only a goddamned fool would go down a cliff with a car that’s got no brakes. There is a real danger that peace would be seriously disturbed during, and after, the elections.

Take this to the bank – Kenya is too fragile a state to withstand violent clashes in every corner of the country. If we love Kenya – and we do – let’s debate about the need to extend the date of the elections until we are reasonably ready.

There are five reasons why I think the elections must be put off. First, these are the most complex elections in Kenya’s history. The new Constitution, though a blessing, has created seemingly byzantine electoral norms and structures that are flummoxing not only to the ordinary Wanjiku, but to the elites.

It’s a complex system that would be challenging even for a developed democracy with a largely literate electorate.

None of these two conditions obtain in Kenya. Ours is a poor electorate that’s largely gullible. Our demagogic politicians know just how to bamboozle the electorate with money and tribal myopia. Mix this witch’s brew with political skulduggery, deliberate sabotage, and rent-seeking and you get a pregnant powder keg – a political volcano.

Second, a General Election is a process, not a single event. But one of the most important events in that process is political party primaries. Free and fair elections are eviscerated where party primaries are shambolic.

It’s like making tea without water, or milk. It’s a practical impossibility – it simply can’t be done. Water or milk is a condition sine qua non to tea.

Primitive test

There isn’t a single sane person who thinks the party primaries last week even pass the most primitive test. Missing, or stuffed ballots, rogue returning officers, dictatorship by party bosses, blatant nepotism and tribalism, vote-buying, daylight violence, voodoo math in vote-counting, and false results made nonsense of the exercise. It was a total sham.

The primary results are unsalvageable because they affect the two major coalitions – Cord and Jubilee. You can’t have a credible General Election where the two major alliances have fake or illegitimate primaries.

It seems only Musalia Mudavadi’s Amani, Martha Karua’s Narc-K, Peter Kenneth’s Eagle, and James ole Kiyiapi’s RBK carried out passable primaries.

But they are too small to restore legitimacy denied to the process by the main groupings. Cord and Jubilee botched the primaries partly because they carried them out too late.

The tactic to prevent losers from defecting to rivals was the last straw. Parties were exposed as highly disorganised and totally unprepared. That’s why the primary results are fruits of a poisoned tree – they are deadly and completely inedible.

Third, the two institutions charged with overseeing elections “completely went south”. Both the IEBC and the Registrar of Political Parties were a disgrace. They lazily and incompetently stood by rather than superintend themselves over the primary elections.

The RPP allowed the registration of new parties by politicians who belonged to other parties.

The IEBC and RPP failed to enforce legal deadlines for the integrity of the process. Parliament itself mutilated the Constitution by amending enabling laws to favour late party hopping, and pushed key deadlines to the edge of non-compliance.

The IEBC delayed voter registration and failed to check the accuracy of voter rolls. The IEBC and RPP allowed parties to bully them into incompetence, laxity, and several illegalities.

Fourth, the IEBC and the RPP shouldn’t have allowed the parties to carry out the primaries by themselves. It’s true that under ordinary circumstances parties do so. But the IEBC and the RPP know – as do all Kenyans – that our political parties are a fiction. They are nothing but husks for their bosses.

Jubilee belongs to Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta while Cord is the property of PM Raila Odinga. This is the bitter truth.

Parties have no firm structures, or internal democratic norms. That’s why the IEBC should have stepped in to oversee the primaries with firm credible deadlines. The IEBC’s failure to intervene has given us cooked and illegitimate results. Primaries weren’t even conducted in several cases.

Fifth, Kenya doesn’t have sufficient security apparatuses to effectively deal with violent breakouts all over the country during and after the elections. The competence and effectiveness of our police service has been brought to question. Look at their inability to deal with localised terror in Tana River.

Multiply that by a factor of 50 during the election and let us, in all honesty, say if they will be able to restore order. Unless the primary elections are repeated to produce credible results, there will be both “intra” and “inter” party violence.

You will have URP folks fighting TNA candidates, and ODM candidates fighting Wiper ones. And then you will have Cord candidates going after Jubilee ones and vice-versa. The whole thing is likely to degenerate into mayhem.

Finally, the electorate is highly tribalised, as are the parties. ODM didn’t really stage primaries in Central Kenya, nor did Jubilee in Nyanza. This doesn’t bode well for the March elections. I know there are those who will call me a “prophet of doom”. That’s their right.

But I prophesy nothing, let alone doom. I am rather giving a warning about what is likely to happen. It’s cockamamie to lay aside realistic analysis for wishful thinking. It’s foolish. It’s like rejecting warnings not to drink hemlock – then gulping it – and hope to survive.

Makau Mutua is Dean and SUNY Distinguished Professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and Chair of the KHRC. Twitter @makaumutua