22 October 2017

Africa: It Is High Time Africa Prohibited Foreigners From Observing Elections

Photo: Jacob Owiti
Voting in Kisumu, Kenya (file photo).
opinion

Since independence, African states have swallowed the lie that the legitimacy of their periodic general elections can be judged to have been free and fair only when it is apparent that they were witnessed and given a stamp of approval by missions of mysteriously appointed foreign observers.

The members of those missions are often not qualified or knowledgeable about the demography and political environment involved in those elections.

However, research has shown that in reality this knowledge is irrelevant.

Rarely do the host countries object to them in case those hosts are accused of being undemocratic, intolerant and wishing to hide rigging and other irregularities during those elections. Those who happily accept the missions, do so comfortably knowing the outcome of the findings and reports which the observer teams will reveal and publish.

The latter category is not interested in any information about what actually occurred in the elections.

Their reports are often misleading, or simply supportive of the results favouring their friends who are declared winners of the elections.

Additionally, some of those reports become catalysts for dissent and conflict within the host state.

The reason for this is an open secret. It is well known that no observer mission would be allowed to do its work or have its report properly compiled unless the host country fully accepted its members and the manner in which they were appointed or knowing their political beliefs.

Take the example of the recent Kenyan presidential elections.

Just before those elections started, the chief expert who was in charge of the electronic voting system was brutally murdered. The assailants have not been identified or arrested, but most people suspect that it was the agents of a political party group who were waiting to participate or benefit from the elections.

Following the declaration of the results, international observers who were supposed to scrutinise the elections, published or gave opinions that the elections were orderly, properly conducted and free of misconduct and therefore the results should be accepted. The findings of the missions failed to take into account the apparent electoral malpractices reported on by the opposition parties and independent Kenyan observers.

However, the Kenyan Supreme Court totally disagreed with the findings of the international observers.

The judges know much better how their system works and can be easily manipulated. In consequence, there can be no doubt that the Supreme Court judges whose impartiality, courage and selflessness has come to be regarded as rare on the African continent are certainly more credible than the casual and transient visitors.

The weakness of relying on foreigners to judge African elections is given more credence by the knowledge that the leader of the international observer team which reported on those elections was an intimate friend of president Uhuru Kenyatta.

With hindsight, this should not have surprised people who know the facts. A recent British publication, Private Eye, of September 8 commented:

"The Kenyan Supreme Court's declaration last week that the recent presidential poll was null and void because of electoral irregularities is just the latest embarrassment for Commonwealth secretary-general Baroness Scotland. She had appointed the former Ghanaian president John Mahama to lead the Commonwealth Observer Group to Kenya, and on the Commonwealth's behalf he had declared the elections to be 'credible, fair and inclusive.' Mahama was an odd choice anyway given his close friendship with one of the presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta. Only last year Kenyatta was Mahama's 'special guest of honour' at Ghana's Independence Day celebration."

It was, therefore, not surprising that Kenyatta expressed shock when the Supreme Court rejected the observers' findings. He and his supporters had expected the observer report to be the guiding principle to intimidate judges and dismiss the presidential petition.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.

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