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Lessons for Zimbabwe from Kenyan elections

Zimbabwe goes to elections in 2023 in the context of a country in serious economic and political turmoil, and also against the history of disputed elections since 2000.

This webinar series examined Zimbabwe’s readiness for the holding of elections that will be acceptable to the nation, the region, the African continent, and the wider international community.

This first webinar, held on August 18, 2022, examined the more general context for eh holding of elections next year, bringing together an expert panel under the moderation of Ibbo Mandaza, Director of the Sapes Trust.

This second webinar focused explicitly on a comparison of the recently completed Kenyan elections with the Gokwe-Kabuyuni by-election.

Tawanda Chimini (former executive director of Elections Resource Centre) filled in as keynote speaker due to the inability of Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o (governor of Kisumu County in Kenya) to connect virtually.

The discussants were Andrew Makoni (chairperson of Zimbabwe Election Support Network), Dzikamai Bere (national director for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), and Solomon Bobosibunu (programme manager, Election Resource Centre)

The political context

At the first webinar, Philani Zamchiya provided a most useful frame for looking at elections with five pillars that must be in place for an election in Zimbabwe to pass national, regional, continental, and international muster:

Information

Inclusion

Insulation

Integrity

Irreversibility

Speakers and discussants were requested to frame their presentations within this framework, using the pillars where appropriate.

The Kenyan election compared with Zimbabwe

At the outset, it was evident that, despite considerable concern about potential violence due to the disputed result, the result was confirmed by the Kenyan Supreme Court and accepted by the losing candidate, Raila Odinga.

Something had clearly changed in Kenya.

Chimini gave a very useful overview of the Kenyan elections.

He pointed out that the 2022 elections came at the end of extensive attempts at reform since the violent elections in 2007.

Despite the failure of the “Golden Handshake” for Daniel Moi, the Building Bridges Initiative, and the general failure of the reform process, Kenya went into these elections on the back of several important considerations.

There were limited reforms between 2017 and 2002, but these needed reforms were mostly unaddressed ahead of this election.

The first important factor in creating an acceptable election was the considerable confidence of the Kenyan citizenry in the judiciary.

According to the Afrobarometer, Kenyan trust in the judiciary had risen from 52% in Round 7 (2016/2018) to 57% in Round 8 (2019/2021), a majority of Kenyan citizens trust their courts.

 This was important as there was an expectation that the election would be disputed, and the courts would be critical to resolving the problem.

It was evident that the pillar on Information was strong. Kenya has a vibrant press, and importantly it was the public media that led the way in the provision of reliable and unbiased information to the citizenry.

Furthermore, there are (and were) good relations between the state and civil society, and, despite an overly cautious approach by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the commission eventually opened up and became more informative.

Inclusion and insulation were also strong.

There were good mechanisms for dealing with hate speech and an effective rapid response system, and, in respect of the latter, all complaints were quickly dealt with.

Although the publication of results did lead to some confusion, this did bolster views that the electoral process was transparent, increasing confidence that there was integrity.

Important in this was the cross-checking by the Supreme Court of a ballot sample with the public results showing good agreement between both was critical to the confidence in the results.

Irreversibility was achieved through the Supreme Court decision, and the focus of the court on the procedural factors of the entire election, and this nullified the effect of the withdrawal of the four commissioners.

The court ruled that this withdrawal was trivial in the face of all the evidence that the entire electoral process was not flawed.

The overall conclusion on the Kenyan elections was that Kenya provides a good model for Zimbabwe, particularly because of the strength of the formal institutions.

By contrast, the discussants were less complimentary about Zimbabwe.

The Gokwe-Kabuyuni by-elections showed the pillars are very weak in Zimbabwe.

The speakers outlined a range of weaknesses revealed in the by-election:

 The prevalence of hate speech  Incidents of political violence  Restrictions on Inclusion, with opposition parties facing roadblocks to rallies and meetings  High numbers of assisted voters  Low numbers of youth voting

Conclusion

The discussants had a very low expectation that the 2023 elections will meet the Kenyan standards: all were agreed that the conditions for free and fair elections in 2023 are absent at present.

Beginning with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, speakers do not view that body as non-partisan pointing out a series of problems:

 The composition of the commission.  The lack of transparency and accountability.  Bias in registration of voters between rural and urban areas.  All the issues around accessing and independent auditing of the voters’ roll.  Then there were a wide range of points about the wider electoral playing field:  The impunity of state institutions.  The partisan behaviour of traditional leaders.  The partisan nature of institutions, such as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), that should be tasked with ensuring Inclusion and insulation  The role of youth militia.

Several general points are worth recording as well.

The first was that Zimbabwean electoral processes set the “standard for the wrong rather than the right” when it comes to reform, best seen in legislation that is “exclusive” rather than “inclusive”, with, for example, the denial of voting to prisoners and the diaspora being obvious examples.

The second is that Zimbabwe has a good constitution and adequate laws, but the problem is strict compliance with these.

In the end, all discussants were clear that the conditions for a Kenyan type of election are absent in Zimbabwe, and all feared that the trend seen in Gokwe-Kabuyuni presages a very violent election next year.

Recommendations

The discussants made several recommendations as follows:

Registration of political parties should not be the responsibility of ZEC.

Removal of legislation, such as the PVO Act, that impedes Inclusion.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission needs urgent reform to ensure it is truly non-partisan.

Reversal of Constitutional Amendment number two to ensure true judicial impartiality, critical for ensuring election disputes.

The topic for discussion for the webinar hosted by Sapes Trust and RAU was: An acceptable election in Zimbabwe: What Lessons from Kenya & the Gokwe-Kabuyuni By-Election?

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