Kenyans have just gone through a heavily contentious election. This was almost always bound to happen because the country’s politics is heavily polarised along ethnic lines.
Following the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as winner of the election and opposition leader Raila Odinga’s rejection of the results, it was expected that there would be tensions in some of Mr Odinga’s strongholds. Clashes between the police and Mr Odinga’s supporters have been reported. And there were reported deaths too.
The authorities came out strongly against protesters, and journalists were even blocked from accessing some parts of Kisumu where the police were thought to be quelling protests. This is a part of the election that Kenyans and all lovers of democracy wish had not happened.
Mr Odinga also alleged that the results transmission and relaying system was hacked into, although the electoral body insists the hacking attempt did not succeed.
What all this proves is that elections anywhere will never be perfect, and there will always be people who will want to interfere with an election for their benefit. And, of course, especially as the claims that the recent American election suffered hacking interference will prove, no system can be completely insulated.
The key point is, however, that whatever happens, it should be possible to ascertain the will of the people and ensure that it is respected. In Kenya, numerous attempts were made to improve the electoral system under the new constitution to ensure that events like the post-election violence of 2007/08 do not happen again. For instance, the electoral body is obligated to verify figures on the results declaration forms from the polling stations and constituencies before they announce the winner. While announcing the winner, the electoral body’s chief is obliged to read out the results from all the 290 constituencies to enable Kenyans to follow up on the results from their areas. In Uganda, the elections chief will read out a block figure while declaring results.
It was also impressive how Mr Odinga freely aired his reservations about the election throughout the process, unfettered by security. When Dr Kizza Besigye and his FDC party tried to have a say on results as the Electoral Commission made announcements in Namboole, the police stormed the party’s headquarters in Najjanankumbi, tear-gassed everyone and broke into the offices to arrest the leaders.
As we discuss the contestations about Kenya’s election, therefore, it is important to reflect on the urgent need for genuine electoral reforms in Uganda. A fairly transparent system has served Kenyans well under very difficult situations; it will serve us well in the future under similar circumstances.