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Credible elections, the bane of democracy in Africa

In the past Africans have been commended for conducting elections free from violence. The Kenyan elections have raised the standard, elections must be credible. The Kenyan case highlights the need to develop transparent and inclusive electoral codes, independent electoral commissions while strengthening the voting systems in the various African countries.



Supreme Court ruling annuls Kenya's presidential election result. Cartoon: Damien Glez

The trend and concept of contested elections, in particular multi-party elections has become commonplace across Africa.  However, as multi-party elections become more common, the credibility of such elections has also become a buzzword.

Many African leaders have understood that elections are an integral part of democracy, but it is of huge concern that the elections are often a far cry from what they ought to be, with many irregularities, which compromise the electoral process and the result. Like students that cheat in an exam, many African leaders have understood that if the West defines democracy for Africa through conducting regular elections, then they can scale through it without necessarily holding credible elections.

The Kenyan election  has exposed the deceit of the West about what they think of as elections on the continent. After the Supreme Court of Kenya nullified the August 8 elections, an election that had received a clear bill by international observers, a standard was raised.

The issue is not just about conducting elections, but rather holding a free, fair and credible election. The Supreme Court of Kenya noted that an election is not an event but a process. However, a process implies that the election is a result and sum total of numerous institutional building processes to strengthen the electoral system.


Read: Kenya’s deepening election and political crisis

The issue of credible elections has become fundamental and contested. The success and credibility of elections on the continent has been based primarily on whether the elections are free of violence, ignoring other aspects which might compromise that credibility.

Chief Justice David Maraga taking oath of office- Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Chief Justice David Maraga taking oath of office- Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Holding credible elections seem to be a huge ask for many electoral commissions on the continent.  We’ve received enough applause for conducting non-violent elections but it’s high time the continent moved forward, demanding more accountability and following due process. There is no other way to strengthen democracy other than following due process.

The mistake many African countries make is to focus on an individual and leave the institutions rotting. For Kenya, the judiciary was strong enough to demand credible elections even when the international community felt the August 8 elections were free and fair.

The election in Kenya has cost Kenya a lot financially, but it’s also important that process is followed and the institution of democracy is strengthened. Despite voting once more on October 26, there was a low voter turnout. There is still a huge uncertainty about the credibility of the October 26 conducted elections and whether the main opposition party in Kenya, the National Super Alliance (NASA) will still go to the courts.

Read: Which way Kenya?


The Kenyan election is more than a battle about who becomes the president of the country. It is more about the strengthening of democracy, of the country’s institutions.

It’s interesting to note that as democracy become more talked about, the role of citizens, and the African Union will be critical in determining how the credibility of country-specific electoral systems evolve.

At the moment there is still a lot of work to be done to perfect the police and security sector, judiciary and electoral institutions, and other institutions. These institutions need to be protected and strengthened. There is need to develop transparent and inclusive electoral codes, while perfecting the voting systems in the various African countries.

There is also need to build and protect the  electoral commissions, to ensure their independence, which will guarantee free, fair and credible elections.