Trading Peace for Justice in the Kenyan Election

Graph by Seema Shah

The Supreme Court of Kenya has a lot on its plate. Just one week after the declaration of Uhuru Kenyatta as president-elect, the court is preparing to read and rule on two cases, both of which challenge the integrity of the electoral process. It has 14 days to make its decision. 

The national narrative has changed dramatically over the past week. What started out as a collective sigh of relief over the absence of violence in the wake of election results has slowly turned into shock and anger as more and more evidence points to serious irregularities in virtually every step of the electoral process, from the procurement of biometric voter registration kits and ballot papers, through the compilation of the voter registry, and on to the vote-counting process and the reporting of results. These irregularities suggest either massive electoral fraud or gross incompetence. Certain patterns, especially in an analysis of the voter registry, suggest that it is more likely the former than the latter. Even as the international community was focusing at first on the possibility of violence, and then congratulating Kenya on its absence, this unfolding story of malfeasance was getting comparatively little attention -- even though it was sometimes happening in plain sight. 

One of the most critical problem areas is the voter registry, arguably the bedrock of the entire election. To this day, it is unclear which register was actually used on election day. This may have something to do with the fact that there are no less than four different lists in circulation, based on four separate dates during the registration process. The number of voters in each list is different, and there is an especially alarming gap of 12,500 additional voters between the most recent version and the provisional list that was made after registration closed. Even more worrying is the geographical pattern of additions and subtractions, which show approximately 14,000 less voters in primary challenger Raila Odinga's strongholds and about 68,000 more voters in Kenyatta's core areas of support. Kenya's national electoral commission, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), issued a notice on February 18, 2013, stating that the Principle Register had been gazetted, but it has yet to be seen in the actual paper gazette. 

Then there is the biometric voter verification system that had been put in place to prevent tampering, such as ballot box stuffing. It malfunctioned in most polling stations. This failure, in combination with the mysterious plethora of voter registers, created huge problems on election day. The numbers of registered voters on constituency-level tallies sometimes differed from the numbers that were announced by the IEBC when they declared the presidential results -- in some cases, by the thousands. The tally forms from around the country also revealed a variety of other problems. Arithmetic errors abound, such that the total number of votes recorded for each candidate are not mathematically correct. In some cases, the constituency-level forms leave out results from some of the area's polling stations. In others there were even differences between the total number of votes printed in numerals and the total number of votes written out in words. Perhaps most worrying, however, is the fact that many of these problematic forms include the signature and stamp of an IEBC official. 

Earlier in the week, the Supreme Court ordered that the IEBC release all the original election results as recorded at the level of the polling station. Even a cursory glance reveals significant flaws. The total votes for presidential candidates announced by the IEBC are in some cases hundreds larger than what was recorded. In other cases, the number of registered voters in all of a constituency's polling stations does not match the total number of registered voters on any of the four registers in circulation. 

At the end of the vote counting process at each polling station, IEBC officials were supposed to digitally transmit their results to the National Tallying Center in Nairobi through an allegedly secure mobile phone system designed specifically for this purpose. On Monday night, the system failed, allegedly because the server did not have enough space to accommodate the incoming results. This seems surprising, given that the IEBC was clearly aware that about 33,000 polling stations would be submitting their vote counts. It is even more surprising, however, when one considers that the polling stations were not submitting all of their results at the same time. On the contrary, only about 13,000 stations had transmitted results by the time of the crash. So why would a server specially designed to receive thousands of polling station results crash well before it could have been overloaded? 

When the IEBC subsequently announced that it was calling all its officers to Nairobi to manually report results, it became clear that the electronic system had been abandoned. In essence, then, there was no check on the manual results at all. This failure meant that there was no real way to ensure public trust in the system. 

Finally, it's worth noting that a simple summation of the numbers being projected on televisions across the country showed serious discrepancies. The number of votes shown at various points during election night broadcasts cast did not equal the number of valid votes plus the number of rejected votes. At one point, the total number of rejected votes even decreased. Where did those rejected votes go? These problematic figures were picked up by many ordinary Kenyans, who noticed the gaps and have now started questioning them. 

Yes, Kenya has kept the peace -- but what kind of peace is this? The extent to which the election truly reflects the popular will is undermined by each new irregularity that surfaces. How the court decides remains to be seen, but its ruling will surely determine Kenya's future democratic trajectory. It will also define the nature of this post-election peace, which is currently merely the absence of violence. Real and lasting peace will come only when it is buttressed by justice.

Seema Shah is a political analyst based in Nairobi. 

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Libya's politicians get a wake-up call

A prominent member of Libya's General National Congress (GNC) resigned Wednesday night. Hassan al-Amin, the chairman of the Human Rights and Civil Society Committee, announced his resignation on Libyan TV, citing numerous credible death threats against him and his family. He's since left the country and is reported to have relocated safely to London.

Amin was a representative for the city of Misrata in the GNC (Libya's transitional legislature). One of Qaddafi's fiercest opponents for more than 28 years, he is also the owner and editor-in-chief of the Libya al-Mostakbal newspaper, which was one of the main opposition platforms against the former dictator.

There have been numerous open threats made against Amin in the city he represents. On January 26, for example, someone wrote a message to him on the courthouse building in Misrata: "Hassan Al-Amin, watch out." In itself such language might not seem especially ominous to readers who are accustomed to living under secure conditions of the rule of law, but it's a rather different matter in a country where militias still control the streets. These militias could take matters into their own hands at any point. Some of them are loyal to certain politicians and political groups, and can be mobilized on their orders.

The increasing threats -- against Amin and others -- come as Libya embarks on a very difficult year on all fronts (in terms of security as well as politically and economically). Political tensions have been on the rise since the beginning of the year, and the situation was made worse with the introduction of the divisive and controversial political isolation law designed to ban former Qaddafi officials from holding office.

Recently, on March 5, armed protestors besieged GNC members as they debated the law. The protesters were attempting to pressure GNC members into passing the bill. Fortunately, GNC members refused to bow to intimidation and refused to debate the law under threat of violence. The standoff continued for about 12 hours.

The GNC session was taking place on the outskirts of Tripoli at a location that was supposed to be secret. However, some GNC members who support the bill's passage told the protestors where the meeting was taking place. On the same day, at least two members of the assembly, including Amin, appeared on TV and publicly accused a controversial member from Misrata, Abdurrahman Swheli (a strong supporter of the isolation law), of informing the protesters of the location. They also blamed him for mobilizing the protesters to ratchet up tensions.

Politicians aren't the only ones being targeted. On March 7, gunmen stormed the headquarters of the privately-owned Alassema television station (see photo above) in retaliation for its coverage of the isolation law debate. The channel is linked to the leader of the National Forces Alliance, Mahmoud Jibril, whose bloc strongly opposes the political isolation law in its current form. (Jibril and his supporters contend that it's too radical and will create a political and institutional vacuum.)

Days before his resignation, Amin launched a fierce verbal assault on the armed militias, and particularly on those in his hometown of Misrata. He also criticized the human rights abuses taking place in Libyan prisons, and accused the militias of following Qaddafi-era practices.

Amin's resignation also highlighted frustration within GNC at the increasingly influential role being played by the Grand Mufti (the highest official of religious law in Libya), who has repeatedly used his position to influence the political agenda. In his latest intervention in politics, the Grand Mufti condemned a recent United Nations report on violence against women. Amin urged the Grand Mufti to maintain neutrality, and suggested that he should take part in the democratic process if he wants to be involved in politics. Many Libyans share this sentiment, and used social media to praise his courage. Many also echoed his concerns about the growing political influence of the Grand Mufti.

The fact that the elected politician Amin felt the need to resign and leave the country after attempting to express his opinion freely is very alarming. This incident could be the beginning of a dangerous wave of political violence in Libya, a situation in which politicians or activists could be threatened, kidnapped, or even killed for their views. This could deepen division, unleash chaos and lawlessness, and hinder the democratic transition -- or perhaps even derail it completely.

Political violence in neighboring Tunisia claimed the life of Chokri Belaid, leader of the Unified Democratic Nationalist party. While Libya remains awash with weapons, an uptick political violence can all too easily lead to armed struggle between different factions.

With that in mind, leaders of the main political blocs within the GNC have agreed to hold a national dialogue to calm the rising political tensions in the country. The leader of the Justice and Construction party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood),and the leader of the National Forces Alliance (the liberal bloc) have agreed in principle to initiate a national discussion about a political roadmap to address many of the controversial issues, including the political isolation law.

This year Libya will embark on the process of writing a permanent constitution. These latest incidents should serve as a wake-up call to the country's politicians. It's time to come together and agree on a new path forward.

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.