Democratic transformations are never simple, linear processes. They involved tortuous processes of partial transformations, conflicts, slowdowns, and even outright reversals. This can be seen from the experiences of established democracies in Europe and the United States.
However, in the case of Africa, besides the inherent difficulties with democratic transformations, political elites are all too willing to torpedo democracy in their countries just to cling to power, secure power or prevent their opponents from getting hold of power. This, according to a prominent political scientist, is because political power in Africa is “the established way to wealth” so that “those who win state power “can have all the wealth they want even without working, while those who lose the struggle for state power cannot have security in the wealth they have made even by hard work.” Predictably therefore, the struggle for the capture of state power “inevitably becomes a matter of life and death.” Is it any wonder that political contests have deepened the fault lines and election is now the leading cause of conflicts and violence around Africa? Like the Kenya electoral violence of 2007 shows, politicians locked in deadly battles for the capture of state power easily ignite ethnic tensions and mobilise along ethnic lines to actualise their ambitions.
Sadly, Kenya is in the news once more for all the wrong reasons. After the Supreme Court annulled the August elections and ordered a rerun within 60 days, politicians, rather than learning lessons from the failed elections and resolving to conduct a more credible one, doubled down, manipulating institutions and ethnic sensibilities just to position themselves to win the rerun by all means possible.
While the opposition leader, Raila Odinga wanted wholesale changes to the electoral commission’s operations and personnel following its indictment by the Supreme Court, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his party’s controlled parliament made it difficult for any changes to take place. Odinga then withdrew from the elections and Kenyatta was declared winner polling 98% of the votes cast. However, as predicted, turnout for the elections – in which voting were indefinitely suspended in several protest-hit constituencies – was abysmally low, with just 38% of the country’s 19.6 million registered voters casting ballots, according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) final tally.
Like the European Union observer team argued: “Actions by both sides have put the people and institutions of Kenya in an extremely difficult position. These include attacks on the judiciary as well as the IEBC, the introduction of changes to the legal framework without consensus, obstruction of the electoral process and officials, and some disproportionate actions by the security forces.”
Mr Kenyatta’s conduct especially must be condemned. His bellicose rhetoric and barefaced intimidation of the judiciary in the aftermath of the annulment of the elections is most unfortunate for a president of a country. Coincidentally, on the eve of the election, the bodyguard of the deputy Chief Justice of Kenya was shot in the shoulder and his gun taken away from him thus compounding the feeling of intimidation and fear of violence. It was not surprising therefore that on the eve of the election when the Supreme Court was to decide whether the elections should proceed or not, only two Supreme Court judges turned up – three short of the five judges needed for a quorum – thus leading to a suspension of the case.
With a highly disputed election marred by boycott and violence, Kenya has, once more, been thrown into a deep political crisis that may have severe repercussions for the peace and unity of the country. But how does Mr Kenyatta care? His main goal was to get a second term.