Raila warns poll rigging in Africa spreading

ODM leader Raila Odinga speaks during a past meeting. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Azimio leader Raila Odinga has expressed fears that if the credibility of last year's election is not addressed, it will have ripple effect on upcoming polls in Africa.

Addressing a leadership conference in Abuja, Nigeria, Raila regretted that Kenya had become a laboratory of bad electoral practices. He said the 2007 election debacle provided a script for former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, and more countries have since perfected the use of technology to override the will of the people.

The ODM leader said that there was need to rethink the use of technology with either adoption of reliable election technology, including voting machines that generate a voter-verifiable audit trail, so that voters can confirm that their choices are being recorded accurately or African countries fully go manual.

“In Kenya, the Supreme Court ruled that the technology used by the IEBC in the 2022 election met the constitutional standards of integrity, verifiability, security, and transparency, it is unclear on what objective criteria the Supreme Court arrived at this conclusion,” said Raila.

He told the forum that African countries do not need one big electoral agency to manage elections but the management of the same should be devolved to the states, regions or counties as is the case in the US, with political parties allowed to second their members to the electoral agency.

Raila noted that elections and democracy in Africa are failing because of an organised elite, keen to protect narrow selfish interests who have forged strategic alliances and captured strategic systems and institutions.

He further said that in many African countries election management has been captured by ruling parties and individual politicians making it impossible to have fair contests. Raila regretted that the situation has led to skewed processes like voter registration and appointment of election management officials, with disastrous consequences.

“As a Pan-Africanist I support Africa’s Agenda 2063 which seeks the socio-economic transformation of the continent. But I want to send a red flag at this forum. If Africa wants to achieve the goals of Agenda 2063, then we must prioritise and entrench free, fair and credible elections by all member states,” he said.

The Azimio leader emphasised that Africans need to accept that critical development efforts cannot succeed without legitimate and democratically elected governments responsive and accountable to citizens and the investor community. He said free and fair elections are indicators to investors that there is government in place that believes in fairness and the rule of law.

Raila called on the continent’s democrats to treat subversion of election as subversion of the people’s will and it should be clear in word and deed that whoever ascends to power by means other than credible and constitutional elections is not only condemned, but subjected to sanctions and removal from office.

“Professor Mike Touchton of Boise State University in the US wrote that main investors conclude that governments that violate electoral laws to stay in office would also be willing to violate investors’ property rights. If the election was rigged, and the leader is overriding laws and constitutional provisions, no one can stand up to the government,” he said.

Raila said a government that comes through a fair ballot gives investors reassurance that their property will be respected, taxation will be fair and they will not have to resort to corruption and bribery to set up or stay in business. 

He told the forum that regimes coming to power through rigged elections cannot guarantee judicial independence and other state and non-governmental bodies that are critical to the rule of law, which is an indispensable requirement for good investment climate.

The Azimio leader noted that elections are important political risk assessment tools for investors.

Raila noted that African countries have modern systems for collection, collation, transmission and tallying of election results with many adopting results management systems that combines traditional vote counting and tallying processes, and use of technology to verify voter eligibility, register votes and transmit results.

“We have seen evolution of electoral laws to allow representatives of political parties independently tally the results and transmit to party tallying centres, but as we have witnessed in Kenya in 2017 and 2022 elections, technology is getting compromised and results altered, this has severely damaged the credibility of election management bodies in many of our countries,” said Raila.

He told the forum that, according to Gallup Poll, 64 per cent of Kenyans did not have confidence in the elections preparedness in 2022.

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