Interview with E.J. Hogendoorn, International Crisis Group, on Kenya’s Elections

Kenya's peaceful March 4 elections was the result of hard work by both the Kenyans and the international community, said E.J. Hogendoorn, the deputy director for Africa at the International Crisis Group (ICG), though there is much that can be improved in the voting process.

"I think that to some degree the elections have been a success because they have been peaceful; they have not really been a success in terms of how they were logistically implemented," said Mr. Hogendoorn.

"There are lots and lots of problems with the modernization of the election process: the creation of a biometric voter registration system, the electronic commission of results completely collapsed, and the electoral board was forced to go back to paper balloting, and so on and so forth," he said.

"But given that, I think the general lessons are that preparations always need to be taken deliberately and to be given a great deal of lead-time, and people need to be very careful that any slippage of the preparations in an electoral campaign can create a lot of confusion and lead to tension."

Mr. Hogendoorn also spoke about the challenges with implementing  Kenya's 2010 constitution."The real dilemma is that the constitution and the reforms it tries to implement are extremely ambitious. What it has essentially done is it has or it will devolve power from a fairly centralized central government to 47 newly created counties, which will have their own governors and county assemblies." He added, "There remains lots and lots of questions about the division of power between the president and the central government, and these new governors, and these local assemblies."

"It is a work in progress, and we believe—or we fear—it may be quite contentious in the next couple of years, as different local communities contest both who controls those moneies within their particular counties, but also between those counties and the federal government itself," he said.

The interview was conducted by John Hirsch, a Senior Adviser to the Africa program at the International Peace Institute and a former US ambassador to Sierre Leone.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript:

John Hirsch: Good afternoon, I’m John Hirsch from the International Peace Institute (IPI) and I’d like to welcome Mr. E.J. Hogendoorn, the deputy director for Africa from the International Crisis Group (ICG). 

We’re discussing the elections in Kenya. In the aftermath of the 2007 elections, there was massive violence with a strong ethnic component. The United Nations and the African Union undertook diplomatic initiative to identify the sources of the violence and to develop recommendations for national policies that would significantly reduce the danger of ethnic violence this year. So far, there has been very little violence in the aftermath of the March 4 election in Kenya. So what is your analysis of the major reasons for reduction in violence this time? Is this the result of the work of the international community, or is it a Kenyan initiative?

E.J. Hogendoorn: I think it is a complicated answer, and I would say it’s because of the hard work of the international community and Kenyans themselves. I should say, or I should add, we’re not out of the woods yet; things are relatively tense. As we speak, there is an appeal that the losing coalition has rendered to the Supreme Court that is questioning the results; what will happen will be very interesting [ed. note: On March 30, the Supreme Court upheld Uhuru Kenyatta's election as president.]

But more broadly speaking, what the Kenyans have done is they’ve implemented a number of very ambitious reforms that do seem to have addressed some of the tensions that triggered the 2007-2008 electoral violence. At the same time I think the international community did a very good job in terms of bringing the spotlight to the elections, paying a lot of attention to what was happening in the campaigning: supporting a new and independent electoral commission, helping with the balloting. And I should also say the ICC and its current investigations and prosecution of a number of the alleged masterminds behind the 2007-2008 violence, also seemed to have had a deterrent effect, particularly when it comes to hate speech and the use of ethnic rhetoric to mobilize constituencies. 

JH: So you’ve already mentioned the appeal that’s now by Raila Odinga, of the election results. Is there a risk of violence, whatever the Supreme Court decision turns out to be? 

EJ: In short, yes. Unfortunately, what will happen is one side will lose. Basically, Raila Odinga’s coalition, CORD, is trying to have the results annulled and have essentially a rerun of the presidential vote that will antagonize the supporters of Kenyatta under the rubric of the Jubilee Alliance. 

If they lose, that of course will antagonize Raila Odinga’s supporters, and we do believe the rhetoric is rising, that there is a chance that at least hardcore supporters of either side may demonstrate. And we argue that the international community and Kenyans needs to remain vigilant to keep that from escalating out of control. 

JH: Your work has focused on the new Kenyan constitution which was adopted in 2010, which includes provisions for the devolution of significant powers to governors and other local authorities. Could you explain the significance of these provisions in the new constitution for improving governance and reducing corruption? Do you think that devolution will make significant difference in the tenor and quality of Kenyan politics? 

EJ: Well, certainly that’s the intent of the crafters of the new constitution which was passed in 2010. The real dilemma is that the constitution and the reforms it tries to implement are extremely ambitious. What it has essentially done is it has or it will devolve power from a fairly centralized central government to 47 newly created counties, which will have their own governors and county assemblies. That process of so-called devolution is in the works, so to speak, and there are lots and lots of questions about how smooth that will go; there remains lots and lots of questions about the division of power between the president and the central government, and these new governors, and these local assemblies. 

At the same time, devolution also intends to devolve fiscal responsibilities from, again, Nairobi to these different counties, but what exactly the devolution of fiscal responsibilities means remains to be seen. It is a work in progress, and we believe or we fear it may be quite contentious in the next couple of years, as different local communities contest both who controls those moneies within their particular counties, but also between those counties and the federal government itself.

JH: Most central governments are elected to develop authority. We look at the issues even in the United States, between the federal and the state view of the division of powers.

EJ: This debate actually triggered the one major civil war that the United States had, nearly 100 years after its independence. That’s just to flag that these things are highly contentious, and this is in a country where these divisions are still very, very extreme. Now, we’re not suggesting that this will happen, we’re just saying that people should be quite aware that these are very divisive issues and could create national unrest.

JH: Well, of course the Civil War was over slavery as well, but within this fight over state powers versus federal powers.

Well, if you regard this Kenyan election as generally a success, generally free and fair, and without significant violence, at least so far, what lessons or conclusions can you draw for the conduct of upcoming elections in Zimbabwe, perhaps elsewhere in Africa, and what do you think should be the roll for the international community in Zimbabwe and in these other elections? 

EJ: I think we would be a bit more sanguine about the Kenyan elections. I think that to some degree the elections have been a success because they have been peaceful; they have not really been a success in terms of how they were logistically implemented. There are lots and lots of problems with the modernization of the election process, the creation of a biometric voter registration system, the electronic commission of results completely collapsed, and the electoral board was forced to go back to paper balloting, and so on and so forth.But given that, I think the general lessons are that preparations always need to be taken deliberately and to be given a great deal of lead-time, and people need to be very careful that any slippage of the preparations in an electoral campaign can create a lot of confusion and lead to tension. 

At the same time, I think the need for transparency, both by an independent electoral commission and also the role of electoral observers is key to increasing the credibility of any vote, as well as the role for local observers in terms of ensuring that the vote process and counting process is as free and fair and transparent as possible. A large part of what has driven tensions in Kenya was confusion in transparency about what exactly the independent electoral board was doing. That said, the independent electoral board did the right thing in terms of being very, very cautious and deliberative about what it was doing, and I think that does help lend some credibility to the results.

JH: Thank you very much.  



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