1 May 2017

East Africa: Why EU Is Sending Poll Observer Mission to Kenya but Not Rwanda

Photo: The New Times
A voter in Kiyovu (file photo).

The contrast in elections in Rwanda and Kenya, which both go to the polls in August, has come to the fore with the European Union saying it will not send an expert mission to assess the preparedness in Kigali even as it prepares to send one to Nairobi.

The EU will also not send an observer mission to monitor the Rwanda election, something which should not be entirely surprising given that it did not send one in 2010 "for lack of resources."

However, this is the first time that the EU will not commit to any of the missions.

Unlike an observer mission, which assesses the credibility of an election, an expert mission assesses the potential political, social, media and economic risks before the polls and examines likely interventions.

The decision not to send observers for Rwanda's August 4 presidential elections was communicated to the National Electoral Commission (NEC) last week by the head of the EU delegation, Michael Ryan, at a closed door meeting in the company of ambassadors from Germany, UK, France and Belgium.

"We are not sending any formal observer missions to the August elections. We don't see the need and have limited resources. There are many elections in the world and we have to decide where to put our resources," Mr Ryan said.

Campaigns

While the campaigns in Rwanda are restricted to the one month provided for by the Constitution, the campaigns in Kenya kicked off in earnest last week with political parties nominating their candidates for various positions.

The EU is preparing to deploy observers in Kenya.

Andy Barnard, the first counsellor at the EU delegation to Kenya, told The EastAfrican that following an invitation from the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), an EU observer mission would be in Nairobi from mid next month.

A key concern is the likely flare-up of election-related violence as that which befell Kenya in 2007.

"Every death from such violence is an avoidable tragedy. But it has to be clear that our election observers are deployed to help Kenya strengthen democracy, not to strengthen security," said Mr Barnard.

Such is the heightened political temperature in Kenya that Catholic Bishops on April 28 warned of potential violence during elections following the shambolic party primaries that were concluded last week.

Rwanda National Electoral Commission chairman Kalisa Mbanda said bodies wishing to observe the country's polls would be invited for accreditation next month.

In 2015, the EU, which is one Rwanda's largest donors, was critical of the 2015 national referendum that postponed the application of presidential term limits.

"Our thoughts are that there will be no surprises in Rwanda. It has nothing to do with the fact that we disagreed with the referendum," Mr Ryan said in an interview.

2010 Kenya observers

In 2010, there were observers at the Rwanda poll from the Commonwealth, the East African Community and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.

In the 2013 Kenyan elections, the IEBC accredited 1,834 international observers as well as 6,327 local and international journalists.

The main observers were the Commonwealth, EU, the African Union, the United States-based Carter Centre as well as a coalition representing the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Others were the EAC and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The objective of an observer mission is to verify that the elections are free and fair, or at least credible. Long-term observers start monitoring months before the election takes place, witnessing voter registration and education; the procurement, design and distribution of election materials; the party nomination process and the campaign.

In the Thursday meeting in Rwanda, EU ambassadors expressed concern that provisions in the election time-frame do not favour all candidates to have successful bids -- particularly independent presidential candidates.

One of the major concerns was a requirement by law for independent candidates to have at least 600 signatures from 30 districts -- a minimum of 12 signatures and at least an address in each district.

"They have to get those signatures in one month before the three-week campaign period starts. In our view, they have to be working on getting those signatures now; but by law they are not allowed to start campaigning yet," Mr Ryan said.

"This seems to favour candidates from well-organised parties with a structure that can begin raising funds and campaigns. The difficulty we notice is that some candidates may not have the opportunity to campaign properly," he added.

However, the NEC said election regulations were protected by law and were derived through consultation with actors from the political parties' forum.

Professor Mbanda said ideas from the EU were put into consideration.

"The Europeans are our friends and they can offer advice but they cannot guide us on how we should go," Professor Mbanda said.

Rwanda nominations

Nomination of presidential candidates will take place between June 12-23 and a provisional list of qualified candidates will be announced on June 27.The names of qualified candidates will be published on July 7, a week before campaigns kick off.

The Green Party elected its president Frank Habineza to run against President Paul Kagame in the August polls, while the Social Democratic Party said it will also front a candidate.

Independent candidates who have made their presidential ambitions known are Catholic priest Thomas Nahimana and former journalist Phillipe Mpayimana.

Last week, the NEC cautioned independent candidates against soliciting funds from the public to support their bids before they are confirmed as candidates.

Rwanda will spend $6.6 million on the August election, 95 per cent of which will be mobilised locally. In 2010, the country spent $8.7 million on the presidential polls.

President Kagame is expected to win by a landslide and rule for another seven years following the Constitutional amendment that allowed term limits to come into force after the coming election.

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