In the last election, the neighboring Kenya, hurtled down towards a destructive path of ethnic bloodletting after a disputed presidential election pitting Mwai Kibaki against his rival Raila Odinga.
Former East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) representative Lydia Wanyoto Mutende has been appointed a coordinator of three observer teams to monitor the March 4 polls. Wanyoto spoke to Emma Mutaizibwa about her appointment.
What are your terms of reference in regard to the new assignment in the Kenyan polls?
I am going to be the technical head of the three joint observer teams from the East African Community (EAC), The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA). Kenya, being the host country, had to accept us.
I leave in advance to prepare the grounds for other observer teams. Some of my roles as a coordinator are to set up media interviews for observers and the joint logistical coordination. I will also brief the observers about the new Constitution under which this election will be carried out. We shall organize a two-day training for the observer teams to acquaint themselves with the new Constitution. For example, the new devolution system in the Constitution is one of the areas we shall teach to them.
Are there priority areas you will be monitoring?
We have mapped out what we call hotspots. We have carefully studied the electoral history of some of these places and shall give briefs to teams of observers. We are also taking keen interest in candidates' strongholds and often it's places like this where rigging occurs most.
The independence of the electoral commission remains a contentious issues in any election How has Kenya addressed this issue?
We are not here to pretend that we are big brothers of Kenya and we are not here to patronize Kenyans. We are only acting as our brother's keeper and we also know that we have these challenges in our respective countries.
But to answer your question, I would like to say that Kenya has made tremendous progress in regard to the issue of appointing an independent electoral commission accepted across the political divide. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is well- respected and it is one of the pillars of the advent of a new Constitution.
For example, they (IEBC) have put in place stringent conditions for one to run for electoral office. The code of conduct has rules that, if applied, will bar anyone with a questionable record from standing for political office.
You served as a member of EALA in Arusha. How does a regional body help to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election in one of its member countries?
There is an elaborate peace campaign we have been supporting. We [EALA] passed a resolution of the House on peaceful elections and our focus has been on the preventive methods [against] election violence rather than diagnosing a post-mortem situation.
We [were] also concerned about hate speech especially in the mother-tongue dialects. Today we are glad that there has been serious censorship on messages. We also had a goodwill ambassador appointed in the aftermath of the election violence and actively participated in the Kofi Annan process to find a lasting solution.
Observer teams are not candid about reports they submit. Will you be honest in your assessment of the March 4 election?
In the last election, I participated as an election observer. The election throughout the day was peaceful. But the challenge arose during the transmission of the results to the national tally centre as a result of interference.
The rules are now tighter and we have an independent electoral commission, which has tightened all the loose nuts and bolts. For example, helicopters will be hired to transport results from far-flung areas and the tallying shall be electronic.
Ethnicity remains a problem in Kenya's politics; what role can you, the observers, play here?
The tribal face of Kenya is a reality and it's entrenched in the psyche of Kenyans. It also dates back to the independence history. What I know is many Kenyans know it is existent but loathe it and are putting [up] effort to overcome it. During the presidential debate the two rivals and sons of founding fathers Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta spoke about it candidly.
It's also clear in their code of conduct not to rally communities on tribal sentiments. But it will all depend on the leaders. If Raila loses and accepts defeat or if Uhuru loses and says we have done our part and lost, no Jaluo or Kikuyu will pick a machete. It's up to the leaders to undo violence.
Do you have a safety plan for the observer teams, if violence breaks out?
We shall get a security briefing and there is a high security alert and the Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, has issued stringent rules. We shall also take precautionary measures in flashpoint areas and if the situation gets out of hand, we have an evacuation plan.
Many of us were on the edge of our seats during the Kenyan presidential debate. What lessons can Uganda learn from that?
It's definitely important that leaders can be civil and respectful to each other to come before such a large audience and debate issues.
When will you give your verdict as observers in the March 4 polls?
We shall issue our report [within] 24 hours after the elections.