The ghost of the disputed 2007 presidential election and the subsequent violence was palpably omnipresent during the Kenya’s 2013 elections, with the overarching message being; peace at all cost. Some argue this posture rendered other issues secondary.
The 2013 elections was pivotal in many respects- It was the first under the new constitution, promulgated August 2010, the first since the 2007 violence, where two suspects, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are facing trial at ICC for their alleged role in the 2007-2008 violence which will start in a few months, It was also a transitional election- incumbent president Kibaki was not running after finishing his two constitutional terms.
These combined, and the overwhelming domestic and international desire to prevent any electoral violence made the 2013 elections a hugely important event in the Africa’s electoral calendar.
Techno fallacy and managing expectations
In his book, “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism” (2013), Evgeny Morozov writes, “Recasting all complex social situations either as neat problems with definite, computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be easily optimized–if only the right algorithms are in place!–this quest is likely to have unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage than the problems they seek to address.
In its desire to prevent voters’ fraud similar to the 2007, where allegedly over one million ghost voters voted, the new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) switched from manual voting, voter identification and result transmission to an electronic system. Voters were registered through Biometric Voter Registration- an electronic system that captures voter’s details to prevent double registration.
The Kriegler commission formed to investigate among other things the organization and conduct of the 2007 electoral operations, said, because of the level of irregularities involved, it was practically impossible to determine who won the 2007 presidential elections. Further, the commission said, “high turnout in polling stations in areas dominated by one party is extremely suspicious and in the eyes of IREC is in itself a clear indication of likely fraud, most probably conducted through ballot stuffing, utilising local knowledge of who on the poorly kept voter register is absent, deceased or for another reason unlikely to appear to vote.”
This was argued forcefully to be the rationale for deploying BVR self-evident- the BVR provides a fool-proof register of voters; it automatically subtracts from the main national register voters who have voted and thus provides a running tally of total votes cast, and centrally integrates the register so that multiple voting becomes physically impossible
On the other hand, the Electronic Vote Transmission (EVT) was meant to relay the results quickly and efficiently to avoid long waiting time between voting and release of the result. The longer the waiting period, the more tension is built. When unveiling the system the IEBC said, “A mobile device will be used by each presiding officer to enter the data from those forms into a specially developed mobile phone application. This device will securely transmit these provisional results data over mobile data network to IEBC headquarters for consolidation and publication.”
This singular trust in technology without considering the underlying structural deficiencies on which these technologies run was making technology an end rather than the means. Technology is nothing but software; it needs a hardware- infrastructure, on which it can run. For instance, Kenya’s electricity coverage is around 20 per cent, and the kit’s battery needed to be charged. And Internet coverage outside major towns is not very reliable.
Predictably, on the voting day, in most polling stations the systems failed. While some of the initial problems like the systems password failure were rectified, Electronic Vote Transmission from the polling stations to the main counting centre in Nairobi collapsed more than once, forcing the commission to resort to manual vote tallying.
One distinct feature of the switch to manual was the number of the rejected votes bizarrely dropped from over 300 000 to under 100 000. The electoral commission’s chair attributed the discrepancy to the fact that the electrical system was processing the rejected voters to a power of 8 (the machine multiplied every rejected vote by 8). If that is the case, mathematically, the final figure of rejected vote after manual counting should be divisible by 8 as well.
The unquestioning or otherwise naïve investment in technology and its associated benefits made those who would have otherwise understood some of the commission’s weakness to raise their expectations on what the system can deliver. But the commission was long on promise, and short on delivery.
The cost of democracy
The cost of elections in Kenya has always been steep, but the transition from manual to electronic election management made the cost even steeper. For Instance, the BVR kit alone cost 8 Billion Kenya shillings (approximately USD93567200). IEBC has a budget of $226m or $16 per voter, although much of its budget is externally funded, but it is still a huge amount.
Significantly, despite the huge amount of money spent, the commission failed to pull off a clean election compared to Uganda whose cost per voter was $4 dollars, and Ghana where the figure is even less, $ 70 cents.
This underlines that the money nor the technology in and off themselves cannot deliver a legitimate elections, what is needed is trust in governance institutions. If the institutions are seen to be operating above the board, people can live with some of their indiscretions.
Institution trust deficit
One of the distinct lessons of the 2007 -2008 violence was Kenyans, including their leaders retained very scant trust in the state’s institutions. This particularly undermined the resolution of the election dispute through the court.
In 2007, during the disputed elections, Martha Karua, who was then stalwart of Kibaki’s administration and the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, told Odinga, cynically, if he feels the elections were not free and fair, he should go to court. Knowing full well the courts were not reformed enough- they were still beholden to the executive, its appointing authority, to make any ruling that will go against the incumbent. On his part Odinga replied, he will not be subjected to a Kangaroo court.
This but eviscerated any residual desire by the leadership, and by extension their support to seek court’s as the avenue for arbitration of the conflict.
But the judiciary was not the only institution that sorely lacked people’s trust. The police was equally distrusted if not more. The police have been the face of an entrenched culture of impunity in Kenya. The force has been accused of excessive use of force against the citizen and eternally corrupt .These combined have made the force to be distrusted by the majority of Kenyans, which eroded the rule of law and human rights culture.
For nearly half a century since Kenyan obtained its independence from the British, state institutions have barely been reformed, they have remained extractive, personalised and politicised, as opposed to being a professional, public service oriented and independent.
Most of them were left at the beck and call of the executive, who used it to settle political scores with opponents, both real and imagined. The treasury and the security sector are two institutions that have remained captive to the forces of status quo who view it as the leverage to stay in power. As such, they have fiercely resisted any attempts at reforming them.
The hope that the electoral institutions – especially after the introduction of multiparty politics in 1990’s, would counterbalance these state institutions have not materialised. The electoral institutions have except in rare occasion been largely beholden to the executive, who deny them their independence either through appointment or limited funding.
However, since the new constitution was enacted, both the police and the judiciary have been undergoing reform. While the pace and depth of reform in the judiciary has gone well, the police reform has remained symbolic, and substantive reform has not taken place yet- so far the appointment of the Inspector General of the Police (IGP) has been the most significant reform. Since it is the police that investigate, and the judiciary arbitrates, if the quality of investigation is not above reproach, the court’s rulings will be impacted.
It is a measure of how far the judicial reform has come that the aggrieved parties have file an election petition arising from the 2013 elections in court rather than resorting to street demonstrations.
Hope and fear in an electoral system
The electorate invest a great deal of fear and hope in elections. Hope, if a politician from “their community” ascends to power, their lot will improve, fear, if they lose, their fortune will decline. This mind sent has effectively reduced the election into a zero sum game. The politicians cynically exploit this electorate’s mind set.
By turning their individual loss into the community’s’ lose, the politicians have conveniently avoided tackling hard questions through innovative policy interventions; they instead they peddle hollow fears and none existent hope. This mutually destructive feedback loop creates antagonistic ethnic cleavages leaving the country hugely polarised from one election cycle to another.
This has made elections a hugely expensive in actual terms as well as symbolically. Consequently, both the electorate and the politicians hardly accept the outcome of elections. The sooner elections are made less expensive through passing the Campaign Finance Bill, the better.
In electoral management and democratic governance, robust Institutions are the vanguard against fraud; technology should not substitute them, but instead complement them.