There is no victor of a flawed election

Monday, February 4th, 2008

The tragedy unfolding in Kenya is a reminder of the fact that a flawed election leaves the “winner” worse off than he would be losing a fair contest.

Whoever is President at the conclusion of this increasingly nasty standoff inherits an economy that is wounded, a parliament that is angry and divided, and a populace that know their will has been disregarded. And he will face a much increased risk of personal harm at the hands of those who see assassination as no worse a crime than electoral fraud. That is at best a Pyrrhic victory. It will be extremely difficult to get anything done under those circumstances.

There is, however, some cause for optimism amidst all the gloom. It seems that many Kenyan MP’s who were fingered for corruption during their previous terms were summarily dismissed by their constituencies, despite tribal affiliations. In other words, if your constituents think you’re a crook, they will vote you out even if you share their ethnicity.

That shows the beginnings of independent-minded political accountability – it shows that voting citizens in Kenya want leaders who are not tainted with corruption, even if that means giving someone from a different tribe their vote. And that is the key shift that is needed in African countries, to give democracy teeth. Ousted MP’s and former presidents are subject to investigation and trial, and no amount of ill-gotten loot in the bank is worth the indignity of a stint in jail at the hands of your successor. As Frederick Chiluba has learned, there’s no such thing as an easy retirement from a corrupt administration.

Of course, that makes it likely that those with skeletons in their closets will try even harder to cling to power, for fear of the consequences if they lose their grip on it. Robert Mugabe is no doubt of the opinion that a bitter time in power is preferable to a bitter time after power. But increasingly, voters in Africa are learning that they really can vote for change. And neighboring countries are learning that it hurts their own investment and economic profiles to certify elections as free and fair when they are far from it. It would be much harder for Robert Mugabe to stay in power illegally if he didn’t have *nearly* enough votes to stay there legally. You can fudge an election a little, but it’s very difficult to fudge it when the whole electorate abandons you, and when nobody will lend your their credibility.

The best hope a current president has of a happy retirement is to ensure that the institutions which will pass judgement on him (or her) in future are independent and competent, to ensure that they will stay that way, and to keep their hands clean. It will take time, but I think we are on track to see healthy changes in governance becoming the norm and not the exception in Africa.

24 comments:

  1. Piers Duruz says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 1:00 am

    It’s interesting really. You say that “The best hope a current president has of a happy retirement is to ensure that the institutions which will pass judgement on him (or her) in future are independent and competent”, presumably so that there at least is no vengeance motive because of backlash / tribal affiliations. I’d guess that corrupt leaders hope that by keeping their friends / affiliates in power that they can avoid retribution. On the surface this seems reasonable, but of course they run into the problem that there are many groups that want power, and in being so divided they all are weakened. Many groups that are different in most ways, but united in one or two (say in the belief of basic fairness and transparency) are able to gain grater power through the power of unity. The more widespread and cross-cultural the idea is, the more powerful it becomes, even when it’s not immediately self-serving on the surface. My businesses could easily afford licenses of Windows Vista, but we use Kubuntu because we also believe in freedom (as in speech), transparency (as in we can see what programs are doing with our data) and the common good (as in making resources, such as software) available to all. I’ve met many people across many walks of life in both politics and open source who have very different outlooks on life, business, faith, politics – you name it. All of them at the very least liked the idea of these things, even if just in principal. That is why principals have the ability to transcend differences in methods. You and I might like different political parties, but still agree on a government of the people for the people. You might use Gnome where I use KDE, but we all want our cultures to have free and equitable access to their own technological freedoms.

    I guess the question is how you keep people focused on the greater, shared principals to overcome the daily petty differences. In this respect you’ve done a delicate, but excellent job in many respects Mark. Many thanks for helping free important parts of my life and may all nations one day live to be free and self determinined.

  2. Kevin Mark says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 5:35 am

    Hmm. I surely hope that countries can put other issue below Democracy. Putting tribal identity, religion, etc. above it seem to lead to bad results(genocide, segregation, oppression). Look to the noted African counties in the news as well as other Islamic ones. What events took place in Kenya that lead to its people looking beyond tribal identity? Communication (cell, net, tv) upgrades?

  3. Dirk Gently says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 6:38 am

    What an absolute blessing it is to have the ability to vote. This is a very very important notice that any right to choose in a country that allows such things can eventually deteriorate if it’s citizens don’t utilize it’s option. As there are some that use position for the own personal gain they will take these individual freedoms if people don’t choose to use them. Its a responsiblity as citizens of the earth that we be sure all votes are equal to all people. The maintenance of democracy is a required of any country. As Americans only around 54% ever vote. And as electronic voting machine enter the scene, and economical gap widens we should all be vigilant.

  4. wiz says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    > You can fudge an election a little, but it’s very difficult to fudge it when the whole electorate abandons you, and when nobody will lend your their credibility.

    Huh. Here, in Russia we have results fudged from nearby 0% to absolute 100% in some regions. Even more than 100% at one place. That’s so mean and unbelievable but noone, except most extremist opposition, really cares.

  5. Philip Hunt says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    “It would be much harder for Robert Mugabe to stay in power illegally if he didn’t have *nearly* enough votes to stay there legally.”

    I’m not sure that’s still true. Does *anyone* support Mugabe these days, apart from the government, army, and police?

  6. Andy Rabagliati says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Mark,

    I have some more background at http://blog.wizzy.com/post/2007-Kenya-Election
    and I have a few other links at the bottom as an update. You say “many Kenyan MP’s who were fingered for corruption during their previous terms were summarily dismissed by their constituencies”. It is a shame that South Africa’s Party List system does not allow the same thing here.

  7. nasrullah says: (permalink)
    February 5th, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Yes it is very sad for Kenyans who are battling each other because of the recent rigged election.Tribalism are being cautioned by politicians in order to divide the nation .The violence that is happening in Kenya is very alarming ????????why President Bush do not send soldiers there to pacify this country , as Bush pretends to be a peace lover …oh Bush acts now in Kenya or you do not want to intervene because there is no petrol there…..ah

  8. alessandro de paula says: (permalink)
    February 6th, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Tribal identity, religion and etc. everything loses of time. I perceive with passing of the years that we have that in exempting them of this “religious” humbug where the planet crosses. Next was effective goes to separate the joio of the wheat.

    Identidade tribal , religião e etc. tudo perca de tempo. Percebo com o passar dos anos que temos que nos livrar desta farsa “religiosa” em que o planeta atravessa. A próxima era vigente vai separar o joio do trigo.

  9. Wynand Meyering says: (permalink)
    February 6th, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    We must not lose hope. I personally see now that only entrepreneurship and investment can pull Africa out of poverty. It is foolish to rely on governments for services, especially economic growth. A few of the world’s great countries have had governments and leaders of immense ability and reputation. Japan after WW2 comes to mind. It takes commitment by people to remain dedicated to Democracy and to remain loyal and to sacrifice for the good of the country, as we now see in Kenya.

    That is why it is important for entrepreneurs with ability, like Mark Shuttleworth, to start up great businesses like he did with Thawte. Businesses that are leaders in technology and that can encourage growth in Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world.

  10. Cuan McLaren says: (permalink)
    February 8th, 2008 at 10:29 am

    The outbreak of vicious violence such as the one that has plagued Kenya over the last month is set off merely by a catalyst, which in this case is one flawed election. There is no one who should be so incensed by claims of vote rigging that he feels he has the right to hack to death a member of a different tribe. This kind of act can only be undertaken by someone with the propensity to commit such violent crimes, and is just waiting for an opportunity. With Kenya being Africa’s front-runner for tourism over the last few decades, one only needs to drive through the country to see how the money brought in by this tourism has been squandered or stolen by those who receive it initially. None (maybe quite a bold statement) has gone back into the communities or to the people. This violence is not about the flawed election, it is about years of oppression by Moi and others, and if Annan and the others manage to calm it down now, it will merely erupt again unless, as you say, healthy changes in governance do become the norm.

  11. marine1992 says: (permalink)
    February 17th, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Where’s the “Ubuntu” spirit in Africa?:(

  12. Evangelina says: (permalink)
    February 21st, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Mark,

    I’ll dare abuse your blog a little and invite people to joing something that is of great not only American but international interest too, the 2008 US elections of course.

    “Hillary Clinton vs Obama (Global Discussion)”

    Description:
    The American Presidency affects everyone on Earth. Please have your say, and do something about it, so that American people can be more aware of the choice they are making.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=12631245305&ref=share

    (And once you are done with that you might want to get a burning desire to go to

    http://www.facebook.com/inbox/readupdates.php?id=6662822757 )

    Best,

    Evangelina

  13. DamianO says: (permalink)
    March 4th, 2008 at 5:12 pm

    Much of whether anything can get done in this parliamentary term depends on how Kenyan citizens react in the long term to the violence.

    Kenyans must make it clear to each other and the (business) world that they are making clear choice between real peace and a spiralling, tit-for-tat culture of violence by leaving aside the natural feelings of bitterness, helplessness in injustice and eschewing what short term satisfaction the fighting might have given some people. Certain tribal conflicts have a longer history and held with deeper regard by the tribes involved, others are based on quirks such as lifestyle differences, tastes, fashions and accents and are less likely to find ground rich enough to take sufficient root into so that it may sprout into violence again (the triggers – in order – are usually land first, then religion, then ethnicity). In particular, the long held mistrust between GEMA ( Kikuyu, Embu ) and the nilotic tribes (Masai, Kalenjin) is unlikely to find anything to cool it during this parliament. These groups have been fighting over what is seen by one side as their misappropriated homeland and what the other tribes sees as vacant land that has they have now added value to where there was inaction and waste before their arrival. The sudden and unlikely union of Luos and Kalenjins is likely to be short lived, there is previously no notable history of shared identity, inter-marriage or political union. between these two. Just as some of the recent rivalries have been opportunist, so have the alliances.

    The appointed President Kibaki, in my opinion, was only in the fight so that he could die while still president and avoid the scrutiny our previous President Moi ‘suffered’. I use the word suffered guardedly because he hasn’t really felt any pain from the exposure of the scale of his plundering. His reputation was always that of a thief and couldn’t have got worse, and he and his family have lost none of their wealth.

    It is likely that the old guard who have overseen the most voracious high level corruption in Kenyas history will try to protect their commercial set pieces.

    It is also likely that there is enough bitterness toward them (and direct or indirect blame for the decent into murder) that talk of mass boycotts of their businesses will probably go ahead, and will be significant. With country-wide pressure on their businesses, the Old Guard will try to protect themselves with the only tool then left to them, political influence. One thing I will be watching is how quickly the government gets a grip on the various security services and their activities. In a country where a powerful minority is rich enough to buy influence in the army over and above what the government can offer.

    We have clung onto some semblance of an identity, should we again lose security, or worse – our confidence in our security – then two of the most important pillars of any organisation fall down and there will be nothing left to save.

    What do people think is the biggest challenge to restoring the economy, where has this sort of thing happened before and the economy raised again succesfully?

  14. Márcio Novelli says: (permalink)
    March 13th, 2008 at 1:45 am

    I come here until saying that a worthy operational system and above of
    other competitors who if say operational (blue screen)… continues
    for the first time thus is my congratulations here.

    Márcio Novelli
    system analyst
    Marília – s.p
    Brazil

    ubuntu 8.04

  15. Benjamin Morant says: (permalink)
    March 18th, 2008 at 11:22 am

    Hi Mark!
    I’m Benjamin Morant from France. I’m an Ubuntu user and I’m engaged in the Free Software’s philosophy.
    I’m a 20 years old student. I’ve studied European politics, law, economics, history and culture in Lille (France) and in Münster (Germany) since 3 years. Next year, I must write a diploma thesis. I want to think about “the relationships between the European Union and Fre Software with a legal, economic and political angle of view”. I must make a internship. I don’t want to do like my classmates who will work in an Embassy. I would like to illustrate my diploma thesis while working in organizations that promote GNU/Linux and free software in Europe. I’ve tried to contact the Free Software Foundation Europe but the answers I’ve received are nor affirmative nor negative. I must do a 6-week internship in Europe. I have time to do that between Juli and November 2008. I would ask you if you’ve heard about other organizations like the FSFE, or if you have a place for me to see how Canonical works and to work within your team.
    Please contact me at: morantbenjamin at yahoo.fr . I can send you my CV and my covering letter.
    Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
    Yours faithfully,
    Benjamin Morant

  16. Alistair says: (permalink)
    March 24th, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    “Whoever is President at the conclusion of this increasingly nasty standoff inherits an economy that is wounded, a parliament that is angry and divided, and a populace that know their will has been disregarded.”

    Written about Kenya, applies to the USA 2008/2009 as our next president is forced to mop up after Bush.

  17. bill kagai says: (permalink)
    March 25th, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    the situation has since been contained but the lessons learned show that there is need to demonstrate that such impunity should not be tolerated. we are looking at more investors reading this as a sign of political maturity that will translate in to economic prosperity.

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    April 3rd, 2008 at 7:58 am

    [...] Una aprobación que deja el prestigio de ISO como organización garante de los estándares a la altura del betún, por haber permitido el abuso descarado del proceso de normalización. A partir de ahora, es muy [...]

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  20. Randall says: (permalink)
    April 5th, 2008 at 12:47 am

    Dear Mark, You have no idea what the fuck you are talking about. You need to shut the fuck up and go back to what ever the fucking hole you crawled out of. Not only did you fuck up linux with ubuntu but you fucking don’t make any sense here either. Please do us all a favor and choke on a ham sandwich.

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