Kenya - Election parallels with Zambia?

The manipulation of the Kenyan electoral process is not unique. It bears all the hallmarks of the 2001 Zambian election, which in turn derived a great deal from Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Essentially it relies on a premature official declaration of the presidential election result and a precipitate inauguration of the purported victor, which can then only be challenged by recourse to the High Court. The court will not produce a verdict for years, ergo the manipulators gets away with their manipulation. The success of the Zambian manipulation has clearly been learnt in Nairobi.

Threats of ending international aid if the results are not withdrawn have been seen to be futile. The Zambian authorities obviously noted that in 1996, when, for instance, Kenneth Kaunda was artificially disqualified from standing, it was so clear in advance of the election process commencing that it could not be independent and neutral, that international observers refused to monitor the elections. Nevertheless aid soon returned - and Frederick Chiluba remained in office as President for a full five year term.

In Zambia, as now in Kenya, there was unanimity amongst observer teams, both national and international, that the results were unsound. In fact, the highly respected local body KODEP, which deployed 6,500 observers across Zambia, was even more forthright than the international teams. It is highly significant that Koki Muli, whose Kenya Election Domestic Observation forum deployed over 17,000 observers, has criticised the tallying of votes in measured but forthright terms.

The EU was particularly targeted as being composed of colonial powers. I was the EU's Chief Observer in Zambia and the Chairman of the electoral commission regularly accused me of being a neo-colonialist and, as such, wanting to impose European democratic methods on Africa. As if! The Americans were accused of being hypocrites because of the electoral chaos in Florida in 2000. Consequently, his commission was reliable and we were not. However, one helpful difference between the two electoral commissions is that in Zambia no member broke ranks publicly whereas five members of the Kenyan commission are now expressing doubts.

The untenable arithmetic of the results in Zambia, as in Kenya, was simply set aside as being of no significance. Widely different results between the presidential and parliamentary elections in the same constituency were clearly suspicious, as was the wholly unlikely total absence of any spoilt ballot papers in one fifth of the constituencies. Even when Anderson Mazoka, who probably won but who was declared the loser, took the government and electoral commission to the Supreme Court, the case was dragged out over more than two years and eventually ended with Mazoka's sudden death. At his request I went and gave evidence, including the production of books of blank ballot papers that had been removed by secret police. The police went to each of the big hotels in Lusaka to find out who had booked my accommodation and who was paying the bill!

The similarities between the process in the two countries suggest that it is no accident that Kenya has copied Zambia in many ways. The governing party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, and its candidate, Levy Mwanawasa, got away with their dark arts in 2001, and Mwai Kibaki and his Party of National Unity must have thought that Kenyans would be as docile today as were Zambians six years ago. Clearly this is not the case and it may not be possible for Kibaki to impose peace and stability on the country.

What lessons are there for the international community? Clearly, a reliance solely on short-term observation - and even on massive teams of domestic observers - cannot guarantee a legitimate election and needs to be reconsidered. Long term observers, in country for at least six weeks, are a different matter and bring the potential of building valuable relationships with key electoral officials. It is also vital to develop a much great African involvement in electoral assistance missions, with experienced election officials from other African countries being able to inculcate better practice.

Above all, it is crucial to avoid regarding elections as being the sole arbiter of democracy. Elections are the consequence of democracy, not its cause and without a healthy civil society, with democratically based NGOs, it is simply impossible to entrench genuine concepts of democracy.

Over the past seventeen years Michael Meadowcroft has led or been a member of forty-eight missions to thirty-five countries. He was the Liberal MP for Leeds West 1983-87.