Executive Director, InformAction
Senior Associate, CSIS Africa Program
Senior Director for Africa, National Endowment for Democracy
“Implications of the Kenyan Elections” was the theme of an April 23 discussion co-hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy and the World Movement for Democracy.
The discussion featured Maina Kiai, a prominent Kenyan human rights lawyer and executive director of Kenyan NGO InformAction, and Prof. Joel Barkan, senior associate of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Dave Peterson, senior director of NED’s Africa program, moderated the discussion.
“The recent election was critical, crucial and momentous,” Kiai said. “It was the first under our new constitution that we spent 20 years trying to put in place.”
While Kenya’s closely-watched March election was not without flaws, the process was considered credible by the Kenyan courts and international observers, and the results were accepted by the opposition, marking a significant improvement over the violence following the December 2007 elections.
The results were close, with Uhuru Kenyatta elected President with 50.07% over Raila Odinga’s 43.31%. Mr. Odinga’s supporters originally contested the results citing irregularities and malfunctions in the new electronic ballot systems, but the results were upheld by the Kenyan Supreme Court and Mr. Odinga accepted the ruling. Mr. Kenyatta was sworn in on April 9, but the outlook for Kenya’s democracy remains uncertain.
Kiai and Barkan, while stopping short of calling the elections fraudulent, were both strongly critical of the election process.
“We aren’t challenging the result, we are challenging the process,” Kiai said. “If the roots are poisoned, then, necessarily, the fruits will be bad too.”
“I don’t think the election was stolen, but the election was a highly incompetent one,” Barkan said. “Elections are not legitimate, particularly in the eyes of the losers, unless they [are conducted] competently.”
Both men also called into question the ruling of Kenya’s Supreme Court in the election case brought by Odinga.
“It is absolutely the most shallow judgement I have ever seen,” said Kiai of the court’s ruling. Barkan said he believes the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision was a political decision and said the court itself came out as the loser by undermining its own authority moving forward.
Kiai and Barkan also discussed the International Criminal Court case against Uhuru Kenyatta and the effects of devolution, as outlined in the country’s new constitution. Kiai cautioned that Kenyatta’s creation of a Ministry of Devolution, which is not independent from the central government, could pose problems in the future.
“I would not focus so much on the ICC case, important as that is, I would focus on whether Kenyatta is going to stick to the markers that he laid out in his very admirable inaugural speech,” Barkan said.
Kiai said he is grateful for the support that NED has given him through his organization InformAction, and also in his role as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. NED played a critical role in that process of moving the election forward, Kiai said, citing a specific NED grant to the Kenyan Human Rights Commission which became the impetus civil society work [in Kenya].
“Sometimes small amounts of money can go a long way if it is used well,” he added. “I have a lot of affection for the Endowment and the flexibility to move agendas that can bring change to society.”
About the event
While Kenya’s closely watched election in March 2013 was not without flaws, the process was considered credible by the Kenyan courts and international observers and the results were accepted by the opposition, marking a significant improvement over the violence following the December 2007 elections.
The results were close, with Uhuru Kenyatta elected President with 50.07 percent over Raila Odinga’s 43.31 percent. Mr. Odinga’s supporters originally contested the results citing irregularities and malfunctions in the new electronic ballot systems, but the results were upheld by the Kenyan Supreme Court and Mr. Odinga accepted the ruling. Mr. Kenyatta was sworn in on April 9; however, the outlook for Kenya’s democracy remains uncertain. President Kenyatta faces trial at the International Criminal Court which has accused him of crimes against humanity in relation to the 2007 election violence.
Additionally, although Kenyan civil society organizations played a significant role in promoting peaceful elections this year, proposed legislation could restrict their future activities. It is also unclear how the new government will implement Kenya’s new constitution which divided Kenya into 47 counties. Maina Kiai spoke about the recent Kenyan elections and their implications for the future of the country.
About the speakers
Maina Kiai is the Executive Director of InformAction, a NED grantee based in Nairobi, Kenya that produces films and organizes community discussions to promote political and social accountability in Kenya. He also serves as UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and he is a member of the World Movement for Democracy’s Steering Committee. For more than two decades, he has campaigned for human rights and constitutional reform across the world.
Joel D. Barkan is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Iowa and a Senior Associate with the Center for Strategic & International Studies Africa Program. He specializes on issues of democratization and governance across Anglophone Africa.