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|By C. London – In political science, they say setbacks are good. They offer lessons which can inform perspectives for national dialogue, improvement and development. Kenya has experienced several politically related setbacks starting with the Mau- Mau rebellion of 1953. To the credit of leaders, Kenya has consistently harnessed these unpleasant occurrences to improve her democratic credentials and national development. Kenya is East Africa’s economic powerhouse.
Following the 2007 controversial elections in which more than 1,500 Kenyans lost their lives, Kenya, with the help of regional leaders headed by the late United Nations (UN) General Secretary, Kofi Annan and Tanzania’s former President, Benjamin Mkapa, embarked on a meaningful healing process which resulted into wide ranging constitutional reforms. Contrary to Guyana where CARICOM leaders have since gone silent after the declaration of the controversial 2020 elections, for Kenya, regional leaders worked with local leaders and in 2010, the country adopted a new constitution after its approval by 67% of Kenya in a referendum.
The reforms continue to be a work in progress, thanks to a robust and independent media and the judiciary. The recently concluded polls in which William Ruto was declared President-Elect have been credited by both local and international observers as meeting the standard of free and fair elections. Kenya has not reached this stage by coincidence rather, it has consistently learned and worked towards improving shortcomings in their systems. For example, in 2017, the victory of Uhuru Kenyatta was nullified by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) did not adhere to the stipulated process in transmitting the results.
There were also disputes related to multiple voting, especially in the Mt. Kenya region, a stronghold of outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta. To address the alleged issues of multiple voting and also, to adhere to the process guidelines which were laid down by the Supreme Court, the IEBC moved to have a total reregistration of all electors in Kenya, in addition to implementing the Kenya Integrated Election Management System (KIEMS). While IEBC says that the voter turnout in the recently concluded polls was just 65%, some observers say that the KIEM technology, which required that each voters’ biometrics were verifiable at the place of poll, might have contributed to this.
Kenya has several nomadic tribes, and it has long been believed that voter impersonations were common. The implementation of biometrics made it impossible for wrong elements to exploit the absence of the nomads to cast votes in their names. In Mt Kenya region for example, in 2017, the voter turnout was as high as 95% in some polling stations. In 2022 polls, no polling station had more than 70% voter turnout. Ironically, the president-elect, William Ruto in 2017 was very critical of the supreme court judges. Little did he know their decisions would in future work to his benefit. The independent Supreme Court of Kenya has been lauded by all for establishing grounds for a democratic nation. This brings me to Guyana.
Guyana shares a lot of similarities with Kenya. Besides both being members of the Commonwealth, Kenya, like Guyana has for long been divided ethnically. However, just as Kenya has been able to turn around their unpleasant past, this writer believes that Guyana too can learn from their unpleasant past to strengthen their democracy and accountability. It is, therefore, in this regard that the sad events surrounding the 2020 elections must not solely be seen in the negative light. Without those events, there would have never been a recount and without a recount, individuals who are impartial would have never known the shortcomings of our electoral system.
The CCJ President, Adrian Saunders posited during the Misenga Jones case that free and fair elections are ‘the lifeblood of true democracy’. This is true, however, unlike their counterparts at the CCJ, the Supreme Court of Kenya went further and observed that in an election, what mattered was not only the votes cast but also, the process in which those votes were cast. The judiciary has been lauded by some for saving democracy in Guyana in 2020. The same judiciary, however, has been slothful to determine the election petitions.
During the oral presentations, CCJ Judge, Jacob Witts was apprehensive of the slothfulness in handling election matters. Although the CCJ too has failed to deliver judgement more than one month after oral submissions, it is important to say that an independent judicial review of the 2020 elections in Guyana vis- a-vis the recommendations such a judicial review could go a long way towards bolstering democracy. CARICOM too must learn from their counterparts in East Africa who have proactively continued to work with Kenyan leaders towards ensuring that each recommendations made are implemented. To do this, however, CARICOM leaders will have to first appreciate that a stable democratic oil rich Guyana is good for the region as a whole, not individual leaders.