The best news that came out of the continent last week has to be the Kenyan Supreme Court historic election ruling. Probably unthinkable, the court annulled results of the presidential vote. When Kenyans went to the polls on August 8, they were reminded of painful memories from the 2007 elections. Violence rocked the nation and a breakdown of law and order replaced peace. The 2017 elections had election observers from the African Union, European Union, Commonwealth Observer Mission and the Carter Center’s observer mission in Kenya.
Regional and international observers praised the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for conducting free and fair elections. Although the opposition raised objections the result was widely endorsed by observers. During the elections, Kenya’s main opposition leader Raila Odinga representing the National Super Alliance (NASA) raised concerns about the problematic electoral process.
Some of the concerns raised by NASA were the alteration of presidential results, the presence of non-gazetted polling stations and exaggeration of the number of voters in some regions. However, regional and international observers did not take into consideration the concerns of the opposition parties.
The Daily Nation quoted the Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary-general Francis Atwoli who said “You don’t just visit one primary school where voting takes place and make a conclusion that everything is right. . . The observers did not do their work properly.”
The question why international observers monitor elections in African countries has been raised by many. The underlying message critics argue is that Africans are not equipped enough to handle their own electoral affairs? Do African electoral processes need western and European affirmation?
For some Kenyas, and particularly for the opposition party NASA, the international observers can and should not be trusted. The dependence on foreign bodies to determine the fairness of election is problematic. In Kenya’s case, the determination fell on the country’s judiciary, an institution that not even Odinga entirely trusted.
The importance of building strong independent institutions that can stand as buffers against injustice and corruption cannot be overemphasized. The annulment of the elections by the Kenyan Supreme Court sends a loud and clear message to the international community. The ruling asserts that Africans can handle their affairs well. It also demystifies the importance of international observers and the role they play in elections.
The annulment of the result is in stark contradiction to numerous assumptions people have on African electoral processes. Citizens from many African countries celebrated the annulment for many reasons. One major reason; Kenya’s judiciary showing its independence, strength and vibrancy.
The major lesson from Kenya is that if the governments in African countries can respect the rule of law, there won’t be need for international observers (read western and European). Kenya’s landmark ruling is a triumph for justice and a victory for democracy.