Lack of public oversight of electoral actors and processes is a major problem in Kenya’s electoral issues. This was noted by George Chacha, a resident of Migori County, a human rights’ elections monitor and member of People for Rural Change Trust Human Rights Network. Chacha opines that there have been no repercussions for those involved in electoral malpractices for these reasons. In such a situation according to Chacha, it is inevitable that leaders continue to threaten, buy, or trick their way into power. Further without monitoring the electoral process, it is impossible to identify and therefore address any challenges. But all is not lost. With the support of Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Chacha decided to change the situation.
Reports from 57 human rights’ election monitors such as Chacha highlight misuse of funds in several sectors. State resources for electioneering were noted to have been misused which led to the Commission of Administrative Justice (CAJ), to confirm that public servants who used or misused public resources for the benefit of their party were culpable of abusing their powers. These reports also influenced the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to issue a legal notice warning state officers against using government resources in campaigns. The IEBC gave all public officers contesting in the 2013 general election two weeks to declare the public facilities at their disposal by virtue of their office. The IEBC warned those that did not comply that they would face fine or imprisonment. Chacha, in his small way, set the pace for an election that prohibited misuses of public resources among other things, with support from CAJ and IEBC.
For the first time, there were repercussions for those involved in electoral malpractices thanks to 57 human rights election monitors like Chacha who operated in 20 counties across Kenya. For instance, those accused of voter bribery and people attempting to vote twice were arrested. Politicians then realised that there was a watchdog and this changed their behaviour. This could be a reason why youth were not incited as frequently as done in the past.
In-depth monitoring of elections also led to better preparedness for the actual elections, for example, there were adequate materials at polling stations, biometric voter identification devices etc. Additionally, Electronic transmission of results functioned better and there were prior consultations between civil society and the IEBC. This is evidence that monitors, such as Chacha, can change the status quo and mitigate electoral related problems.
Chacha was empowered to take charge in this process as he was trained in election monitoring tools, election related law, international instruments and treaties on civil and political rights by KHRC. As a community-based Human Rights election monitor he utilized the agreed monitoring tools to record human rights violations related to party nominations, electoral campaigns and voting. He conducted this in a data driven process attending politically motivated events (rallies, funerals, office launches, church meetings and fundraising events) and systematically monitored the media. He made records of all electoral processes before, during and after the elections. Community-based Human Rights monitors submitted over 3,000 reports with photos, audio and visual recordings, to the KHRC and reported malpractices to relevant government bodies.
Like many Kenyans Chacha previously feared elections as they have always resulted in violence. Elections have seen politicians use ethnicity to mobilize votes which has whipped up tensions that have resulting in cross-community violence. The highly contested 2007 general elections and the disputed Presidential results led to 1,100 people killed, thousands injured, at least 40,000 incidents of sexual and gender-based violence and over 600,000 being displaced.
Lack of oversight of elections has led to violence, threats of violence (including Gender-based violence), militias and criminal gangs against all persons. It also led to use of hate speech and unsavoury language in electoral campaigns; misuse of public resources by those in power to their unfair advantage in the electoral contest; and voter buying, voter bribery, unwarranted assisted voting, voter intimidation and theft of IDs. Marginalized groups such as women, persons with disabilities, youth and other minorities also saw discrimination during these processes.
History has a role to play in the reasons as to why stakes are high in an election win for many Kenyans. Political leadership in Kenya is a space for the elite ethnic groups favoured by or who collaborated with the colonial administration. This system is not inclusive with successive Governments leaving certain ethnic groups out of politics. Marginalised ethnic groups lack the numbers to win an election in a country where voting is primarily along ethnic lines. This has led some to question whether the First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system is suitable for Kenya and whether a proportional representation system would foster better representation and inclusivity.
Marginalised ethnic groups also have a sense that successive elections have been stolen leading to a sense of disenfranchisement and sentiments that they should disengage from political participation. Resource allocation has mirrored allocation of political power so that Counties that do not have senior politicians representing their interests lack developmental initiatives such as infrastructure, social amenities and employment opportunities.
Positively, the Electoral Monitoring and Reform project, supported by the Danish Embassy through the Drivers of Accountability Programme (DAP), resulted in a paradigm shift from monitoring elections only on the Election Day to monitoring based on the electoral cycle; from pre –election, Election Day and Post- Election. A human rights based approach is used in this process. Arguably, one of the most important aspects of this project was working with existing human rights networks on the ground and individuals such as Chacha meaning that the project made a significant and sustainable contribution to strengthening human rights awareness among the communities.
Nationally, KHRC analyzed the reports it received from community-based monitors across the country and presented findings and recommendations in a report titled 'Democratic Paradox: A Report of Kenya's 2013 General Elections.' The IEBC have lived up to their commitment to act on these recommendations by implementing some of the suggestions made by the KHRC. Effective registration of voters in the diaspora was one of the recommendations made by KHRC. Notably, the IEBC in February, 2015 launched an online mapping tool that will see them effectively register voters in the diaspora. Additionally, in March 2015 the IEBC launched a school project on voter education that seeks to nurture democracy in young Kenyans. Development of strategies for school-based voter Education targeting primary and secondary schools as a way of inculcating democratic values in both pupils and students was another recommendation made by KHRC.
The structures in place to enable civil society, the IEBC, political parties, the office of the registrar of political parties and other electoral stakeholders to collaborate in monitoring elections have been reinforced through the creation of the election Technical Working Group (TWG) which is co-chaired by KHRC and the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED). Additionally, KHRC and IED created a WhatsApp group which enables CSOs, election monitors, IEBC commissioners and senior management to engage on key emerging electoral issues in real time. This should make the challenge of a lack of civilian oversite of elections a thing of the past.
However, electoral related violence is an issue across several African countries with many states suffering the ethnic polarization that Colonialism seeded through its divide and rule policies. Subsequent political despots have enhanced this through the manipulation of ethnic identity for political gain. The ‘Big Man’ approach to politics remains, where a leader, promises ‘development’ and ‘jobs’ to his ethnic homeland if voted into power, instilling a commitment to ethnic voting even though the majority of poor people from all ethnicities do not benefit whoever the leader.
There are numerous African leaders who have sought to undermine democracy in a desperate bid to cling to power, for example, Burundi in 2015. Thus, regionally, KHRC’s electoral governance assessment framework has been utilized in South Africa, Botswana, Malawi and Zambia. KHRC has raised the potential for an African framework on election monitoring at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) where there has been significant interest in developing such a framework.
In recognition of its established track-record on electoral governance matters, KHRC in 2014 was admitted as a member to the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitoring (GNDEM). This membership will enhance its regional and international advocacy on electoral governance. This is because it avails a global platform to engage with likeminded organizations on topical electoral governance issues. It will also share reports and other resources. Through this, people outside of Africa can benefit from the use of this practical election process monitoring tool.
Elections in Africa can be reformed to become inclusive, credible and peaceful processes that can lead to better governance across the continent. It is through people like Chacha, that this ambitious dream shall be realized