Breathing life into Article 81 of the Constitution: Reflections ahead of 2017 elections

Electoral violence is costly. It not only takes away citizens’ lives, it undermines stable democracies. This was my personal reflection at the beginning of the Rift Valley Institute and Society for International Development organised ‘Freedom from intimidation, violence and corruption: International and national reflections ahead of Kenyan elections’ seminar on April 20. The event opened with close to 100 participants offering a moment of silence in honour of those of who have lost their lives through electoral violence.

My next reflection revolved around two questions. If fair and credible elections free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption is enshrined in our Constitution, why are we still experiencing electoral violence? Why should the behaviour of politicians and the citizens so different from the national values in the new Constitution? 

Electoral violence has undermined the spirit of democracy during the last three General elections in Kenya. At the seminar, participants were drawn from the civil society, embassies, universities, peace practitioners explored the importance of ‘election issue fiction’ or in other words, policy-oriented and issue based elections.  

One of the participants powerfully argued, ‘If  Kenyans are not enjoying democratic dividends, why should we invest in elections?” Public apathy, non-responsive citizens and the politics of fear, scapegoating and division suffocates our elections came to the response from the panel.  Citizens are more interested in tokenism than development and have nurtured a culture of ‘goodies’. ‘People don’t visualise the kind of society they want. Overtime, politics has become an enterprise. People will kill or bribe to get themselves into elective office’ argued Tarbaj Member of Parliament Mohammed Elmi.

Kenyans rarely elect leaders based on their ideologies and vision. According to Hekima Institute research findings, 88.3% of Kenyans do not make a connection between elections and issues. 90.3 % of the electorate see manifestos as public relations rhetoric designed to hoodwink them for their votes.

Politicians have mastered these perceptions and designed inappropriate measures to impress and relate with ‘Wanjiku’. Selfless leadership is seen as rhetorical. The voter has no choice but to elect unethical leaders. In this new normal, all you need is fifty shillings note to take advantage of high unemployment rates and cost of living and buy an X on the ballot.

The global re-emergence of politicians without ideas is on the rise and many politicians are turning to propagating prejudice, hate speech and nepotism to gain popularity. Panellist Brendan Cox noted ‘what the populist does is to blame a particular group rather than question the system.”  This is a worrying global trend in North America and across Europe but also Asia and Africa. More resources need to be invested in building the capacity of the citizenry to internalise national values.

Chapter Six enforcement is the second critical challenge before the elections this year. Chapter Six requires all state officers to practice honesty in the execution of public duties and declare any personal interest that may conflict with public duties. It also demands accountability to the public for decisions and actions among others. Participants discussed the importance of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission enforcing Chapter Six and reporting annually on its implementation.

The on-going political and legal debate on how to interpret Chapter Six poses a threat to the Constitution. Some argue that only a criminal standard of conviction should bar State Officials from continuing in office, there are others that think it should be an ethical standard that is crossed when you are named adversely in Auditor General’s reports or placed on your defence in court. This confusion has led the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights to seek an advisory opinion by the Supreme Court. In any case, panellist and University of Nairobi scholar Dr Winnie Mittulah made it clear that “the greatest protection was an “awoke” citizenry that says no to corrupt and unethical leaders. Aspirants who have been accused of propagating hate speech, improper conduct in the public, abuse of office and corruption have no place in 2017 elections.”

A successful 2017 Elections is inextricably linked to issues of integrity, peace and national unity. Unless the conduct of the 2017 Elections is consistent with our constitutional electoral principles of transparency, impartiality, neutrality, accuracy and accountability and free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption, our efforts will be in vain.

The on-going party primaries have proved that violence will be inevitable unless the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) puts in place proper measures to handle the 2017 Elections. IEBC must ensure that voting materials are adequate, register of voters is comprehensive and transparency in the transmission of results. It must regularly engage the public by organising public dialogues, bar aspirants with questionable integrity and those propagating hate speech and violence. Political parties, National and County Executive arms of Government and all other actors must respect IEBC independence and provide an enabling environment to conduct its role without interference.

Finally, both state and non-state actors must acknowledge that they all have a role to play to ensure a fair and credible 2017 elections free from violence, intimidation, improper influence or corruption. Citizens, civil society, media and academia not only politicians are responsible for ensuring this. All these groups must collectively generate transformative ideas and implement them to the letter. One way of doing this would be to #RedCardKE all corrupt, divisive and violent aspirants.


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