WHILE the politics of Kenya and Zimbabwe have been strikingly similar since 2007, notwithstanding the countries’ different histories and internal dynamics, variations quickly emerged last week when Kenyans witnessed a rare and historic smooth transfer of power as President Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn in as the country’s fourth president.
Elias Mambo in Nairobi
Although former prime minister Raila Odinga initially contested the presidential election outcome in the Supreme Court, he eventually accepted the court’s verdict which upheld the result and wished Kenyatta well in his tenure.
The political maturity demonstrated by Kenyans sent a positive message on the prospects of Africa’s democratic future.
Although Africa is slowly but surely transitioning towards a democratic dispensation after being blighted by one-party states and dictatorships, there are still significant pockets of resistance to democratic change across the continent in the form of military dictatorships, coup leaders, failed states and masked autocracies.
The Kenyan experience still confounds many on how the deeply divided nation managed to hold fairly credible elections after the 2007 bloodshed following disputed poll results.
Like Zimbabwe in 2009, Kenya formed a unity government in 2008 after political unrest in the east African country which claimed over a thousand lives.
Zimbabwe was also rocked by political violence and intimidation during the presidential election run-off in June 2008, leading to an illegitimate outcome and signing of the Global Political Agreement to form a transitional power-sharing government to create conditions for free and fair elections.
Much like the case of Kenya, Zimbabwe’s coalition government was to oversee the writing of a new constitution and undertake political reforms that would culminate in free and fair elections.
Kenya’s coalition government formed the Kenya Law Reform Commission (KLRC) which was involved with the Elections Bill project that consolidated the many laws on elections.
The KLRC was also instrumental in the drafting of the judicial reforms legislation as well as the National Task Force on Police Reforms and the Police Reforms Implementation Committee which came up in five Bills, including the National Police Service Bill.
As part of reforms implementation, Kenyans allowed the International Criminal Court (ICC) to question Kenyatta on his alleged role in which more than a thousand people died after the disputed December 2007 elections.
Kenyatta’s lawyers are co-operating with the ICC while his co-accused and newly sworn-in Vice-President William Ruto has already been cleared of war crimes by the ICC.
Gad Awuonda, a lawyer who served as a legislative drafter for the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review that wrote the constitution, said Kenya’s coalition government worked very hard to implement reforms before elections were held.
“We have done a lot; passed many laws; operationalised and commissioned numerous institutions and we are now regarded as a country with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world,” Awuonda told the Zimbabwe Independent in Nairobi during Kenyatta’s recent inauguration.
Reforms boosted the confidence of most Kenyans resulting in them turning up en masse to vote for the new constitution and later in elections, without being haunted by the horrors of 2007. Kenyans stood in queues for more than 10 hours to cast their ballots in the recent polls.
There was little suspicion that the person behind them in the queue was spying on how they were going to vote, erasing all fears of reprisals. Security forces responsible for the deaths of more than a thousand people in 2007 had been reformed by the implementation of the National Police Service Bill and opted to remain professional and willing to accept any outcomes of the elections.
However, without political and security reforms, it seems Zimbabwe’s next elections would be held on an uneven political playing field once again, raising fears of yet another disputed outcome and instability.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said the country has to first implement all agreed reforms if the elections are to be free and fair, and the outcomes legitimate.
“Like in the Kenyan process, elections must be preceded by critical reforms in order to guarantee their credibility and acceptability,” said Ruhanya. “This requires that all election-related issues that are captured in the new draft constitution be implemented in theory and practice.”
Although Zanu PF agreed to form a coalition government, analysts say its major priority was to use the respite not to prepare for free and fair elections but to regroup.
Analysts say its strategy was to use the power-sharing agreement to close ranks and prepare to recover lost ground in the next elections. The MDC parties have, however, been preoccupied with the trappings of power, forgetting the endgame was elections.
Due to the main parties’ divergent and sometimes conflicting interests, the inclusive government has always been rocked by internal power struggles and infighting, derailing it from its main mission of restoring political and economic stability while preparing for credible elections.
Four years after the coalition government agreed to implement critical reforms and draw up an implementation matrix to allow genuine elections, most of the reforms are still outstanding. If anything, Zanu PF has been digging-in by resisting reforms and making it difficult to hold free and fair polls. The party has been particularly defensive on security sector reforms.
Zimbabwe’s security forces were instrumental in retaining President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF in power, making them their pillar of support, and hence the fierce resistance to their reform.
Analysts say the security sector’s partisan involvement in political and electoral affairs of the state does not guarantee the security of the voters, making it difficult to have a peaceful democratic transition in Zimbabwe.
Unlike Kenya which dissolved the electoral body that ran the bloody 2007 disputed polls and replaced it with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Zimbabwe has not revamped the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec). Zanu PF has resisted any attempts to reform the body.
Zec remains manned by controversial appointees linked to Zanu PF and has been accused of manipulating elections in the past, including the recent constitutional referendum, despite Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai giving the body a clean bill of health.
During the 2008 presidential poll, Zec held onto the results for more than a month, a move which fuelled suspicions of electoral fraud. Results were eventually released showing Mugabe had lost to Tsvangirai in the first round, but critics say the delay was used to fiddle with his loss to ensure a run-off.
Critics say while election dates might be an interesting detail in the process, the real issue is the electoral context, environment and administration of polls which are heavily loaded in favour of Mugabe and Zanu PF.
“Elections in the absence of credible reforms mean an extension of the status quo, an indefinite postponement of the democratisation agenda and further entrenchment of Zimbabwe’s isolation from the international community,” said Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher for Zimbabwe and southern Africa at Human Rights Watch.
“This is what is likely to happen if polls are held without reforms.”