September 25, 2017 SA Communications

Elections are viewed as the tool to express the will of the people and a conflict management tool

In developed and developing democracies, elections are viewed as the tool to express the will of the people. In international relations and conflict studies, elections are also a conflict management tool that leads to an acceptable settlement for the parties involved. However, as Paul Collier states in his book on Wars, Guns, and Votes; electoral competition has created a Darwinian struggle for political survival in which the winner tends to adopt the most cost-effective means of attracting votes. Kenya has grown from the challenges related to elections; after 2007 -2008 incidents. The situation witnessed after the last election (August 8th, 2017) show a glimmer of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel for the state called Kenya. The supreme court ruling has not only shocked the local communities and the international spectra, but it has also shaken the foundations of democracy. The nullification of the elections created a pause moment in history and an expected turn of events. This moment has created a time of reflection for institutions of justice, reforms, elections – sort-of ceasefire for the nation. The dictates of a cease-fire, have not been adhered to and as conflict activists predict, we are facing a time bomb if certain critical areas and issues are not addressed.

The supreme court ruling was not welcomed by one party that saw this as a problem that sort to destabilize democracy. On the other hand, the other party was overwhelmed with the whole scenario to the level of extending their next cause of action towards IEBC; an institution that was mentioned to be the influencing part in the ruling. However, the Supreme court did not find any maleficence on particular officers of the IEBC. The IEBC has shown some shortfalls in its right; starting from the printing contracts, transmission challenges and even dissonance between the secretariat and the commissioners themselves. The media, in “good faith” has tried to shed some light to some of these issues. On their part, however, the highlights have left more questions than a way forward; if any, for the country. In fact, this has opened up speculation leading to Jubilee or Nasa alignment rhetoric, and false narrative. Coming back the judiciary, the office of the Attorney General (AG), the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the implementers of law and order; National Police Service (NPS); do not commit to explaining the challenges and rules of engagement during this cease-fire moment. Also, one may ask where the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) is, during this tough time for the nation.

The critical role of political leadership is that of building the country before building the state. However, this is not forthcoming in Kenya. Apart from not setting up the rules of engagement, the NCIC seems not to be engaged in the process of monitoring and advising on the narrative spewed on different national platforms. Besides, the ethnic tensions currently developing makes these challenges rife even as we approach the new date set for elections. As a nation, we tend to forget that diversity raises the productivity of a team because it increases the range of skills, knowledge, and perspectives that help in problem-solving. With that in mind, what is the response from the business community on this topic? We currently experience losses or reduced business opportunities courtesy of the predictions on the outcomes of the presidential re-election. It is great to do perception polls in the different regions of this nation but to what end exactly? We are blinded by the need to share all and any information yet, risk doing harm than good.

The trip down memory lane and lessons from history show that working and making “Wanjiku” understand the concepts, makes work easier and reduces chances of protracted conflicts. The trauma associated with the supreme court ruling, the limited knowledge of what happens next and little or no engagement with “Wanjiku’s” needs; during this period, creates a lot of unpredictable scenarios. The discussions on mass media have not included the voter’s narrative on what they understand, what they want and how they will engage. Also, “Wanjiku” has been left to learn from discussants whose intentions are usually biased to one party or the other, yet we expect a typical reaction after the 26th of October 2017.

The international day for peace was critical for Kenya during this time. Different organizations had activities to celebrate this day; including discussions with conflict activists, on the issue of elections and democracy. During one of such event, it was clear that Kenya and Kenyans cannot run away from the discussion on institutions. It is an accepted fact that our institutions including the IEBC, are flawed in many areas. Also, IEBC has not been instrumental in reaching out to the voter; who will be the principal stakeholder in the repeat election, yet they expect that this stakeholder will participate by – constitutional responsibility. Secondly, the LSK, or AGs office or even the police, have not had interactions with the voters on the interpretation of the ruling, to avoid another nullification of the process, in case they vote. As a nation, we have not come to terms with the fact that this conflict settlement tool (elections) is not a win – loose affair, but rather a win-win case for the nation itself. The perspectives of elections in our democracy are modeled from a political rivalry standpoint, with the aim of ethnic alignment that may cause more harm than good. NCIC has not had conversations with the voters on the responses to all the information reaching out to the voter.

As a country that is always in constant anticipation of the next government, we need to dismiss the illusion that election is a milestone and face the processes of building our economy. In summation, the theory of legitimacy states that; peace is secured by an election because the winner is recognized as legitimate by the population. However, before we achieve that; communication and dialogue during this time are critical. We need a third narrative during this period. We can start by engaging the voters in the three areas mentioned above even as we midwife this nation during this trying time.

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