Guest Post: Kenyan votes roll in

Another guest post from Jessica Grody in Nairobi

Vote tallying continues more than 24 hours after the Kenyan polls closed. Although results are expected within 48 hours, the IEBC, Kenya’s independent election commission, has up to seven days to release the official results.

One of the most shocking figures of the vote tally is the percentage of rejected votes. Currently, over 5% of the total votes cast have been labeled invalid. Votes are rejected if the ballot papers were filled out incorrectly or placed in the wrong boxes. Voters were given six colored pieces of paper as ballots, one for each position available, and were instructed to place ballots in the matching boxes. Many complained that colors were very similar to begin with – the pale green looked like the pale blue which looked like the pale purple. Voters might have had challenges differentiating between the colors in the best of circumstances, a prospect that was made even more difficult for citizens who cast their votes in the many polling stations that lacked electricity or where voting continued long past sundown.

There is some discussion over how the rejected ballots will effect the final tally. The Kenyan Constitution states that the president must receive more than half of the votes cast, and some legal scholars are claiming that the rejected votes should count in the tally of votes cast. This could be enough to put Uhuru Kenyatta, who is currently leading with 53% of the tallied votes, below the 50% threshold.

Certainly the technological failures of this election will be greatly scrutinized in the coming weeks. The government spent a great deal of time and money purchasing biometric voter registration kits, which recorded voters’ fingerprints during registration and were intended to greatly reduce voter fraud. However, many polling stations did not use the electronic registry on election day because the equipment had inadequate battery life or failed to recognize fingerprints, and because many election officials could not remember how to access or use the system. They resorted to the manual voter registration book, which is much slower and more susceptible to tampering.
The IEBC is also taking heat for major delays in vote transmission when the servers crashed. Improving the transparency in vote counting was a priority in this election, since alleged improprieties in that stage of the 2007 election contributed to the disputed results and ensuing violence.

While the atmosphere in Kenya is still calm, everyone remains glued to their television and radio sets waiting for the rest of the results to be tallied.

African perspectives on Kenyan election

Next week’s presidential election in Kenya is being closely monitored both because it is the first under its new constitution, because democratic institutions are still in their infancy across Africa, because the last election resulted in so much bloodshed, and a few of the leading candidates are scheduled to stand trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity. The New York Times has been covering pretty closely, but I thought it was worth taking a look at how the election is being viewed from various African perspectives.

AU: The African Union is sending the former president of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, to lead a team that will monitor the Kenyan elections, part of its ongoing efforts to promote democratic processes.

Uganda relies heavily on the port of Mombasa for imports and exports, so post-election violence in Kenya could significantly harm the Ugandan economy. The tea industry in particular has expanded in recent years, with farmers planting more acres and new factories rising to process the crops to take advantage of high prices on the international market.

Ugandan security officials have also been monitoring the situation, partially in response to the severe fuel shortage that struck Uganda during Kenya’s post-election violence in 2008.

However, Ugandans have also discussed what Kenya’s first presidential debates and planned devolution could mean for Uganda. To date, President Musaveni has not shown any interest in participating in a debate, and there has not been sufficient political pressure to encourage him to engage in open discussion with any opponents.

Although the presidential candidates in Tanzania participated in a debate during the 1995 election, Tanzania has not held such a debate since then. Due to the perceived success of the Kenyan debates, several Tanzanian politicians and members of the media have expressed an interest in trying to implement one during the next campaign season.

Within Kenya, foreigners and immigrants are preparing for potential disruptions to their businesses. Shops in the city of Kisumu, located in the home province of candidate Raila Odinga, were looted and vandalized following the previous election, so shopkeepers, many of South Asian descent, are boarding up their stores and staying closed for at least two days after the election.

The United States has said it will be neutral, and President Obama recorded a video message urging the Kenyan people to refrain from violence in this election. The video was widely covered by Kenyan media.

Guest Post: Kenya’s first presidential debate

(Jessica Grody is Project Manager for the Uwezo Evaluation Team, and is currently based in Nairobi)

Yesterday marked a historic event in Kenya: eight candidates participated in the country’s first ever presidential debate. With less than a month to go until the March 4th elections, the presidential aspirants assembled for the first of two organized debates, broadcast across the country on multiple television and local radio stations and live-streamed on YouTube. It would be easy to write many pages chronicling the faults and missteps of this election process, which include a fight over the election date itself, a series of delays in voter registration following the botched procurement of voter registration kits, last minute party defections by candidates who failed to win their party’s nominations, and of course the impending ICC trial of a leading candidate to investigate his role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence, but I choose instead to focus on some of the many positive aspects of the debate.

Perhaps the first sign of success was the interest in the debate itself. Despite the cynical assertions I hear regularly that in this election, like in all others before, people will vote along ethnic lines, everyone I know in Nairobi, friends and colleagues, taxi drivers and security guards, tuned in to hear the candidates make their cases for why they deserve your vote. While the six leading candidates were originally invited to attend, the two others whose names will appear on the ballot won the right to participate after one successfully obtained a court order to guarantee his inclusion. While I’m not sure if their inclusion added to the discussion or merely took time away from the candidates who are more legitimate contenders, it is significant that they were able to avail themselves of the justice system to participate in the democratic process.

The debate lasted more than three hours and addressed tribalism, education, health, corruption, security, and other issues. I heard criticisms that the rhetoric was less debate and more stump speech, but three hours of conversation on the major issues facing Kenyans provided a fairly clear understanding the candidates’ positions and was definitely democracy-in-action.

This debate also highlighted achievements towards equality and inclusion. Even though Martha Karua is not expected to win, it’s notable that a female candidate is participating as a respected contender. The debate was moderated by one male and one female news anchor, and the pre- and post-debate analyses included both male and female experts and commentators.

As a quick aside, during his answer to the question asked about education, Peter Kenneth talked about the need to improve the quality of education rather than just the quantity, and pointed out that increasing school inputs (classrooms, books) is not equivalent to improving learning outcomes. That is one of Uwezo’s main focuses, so it was encouraging to have that message repeated by a presidential candidate.

A lot could go wrong between now and the inauguration of the next president, most seriously a repeat of the ethnic violence sparked by alleged fraud during the previous election, but the completion of this first successful presidential debate deserves to go down in the books as a positive step towards an open and fair democracy in Kenya.

Open Budgets – Twaweza director presentation

Last week I wrote about the International Budget Project’s Open Government Partnership program. Rakesh Rajani, head of Twaweza, spoke at the OGP launch at the UN in New York. Rakesh is a passionate advocate of open information, open societies, and open government, and this article is an edited version of his presentation.

Photos from our Uwezo field research in Kenya

Our research team has now completed 12 busy weeks of fieldwork in Kenya, and before we begin to disseminate results, I wanted to share some photographs to provide a context of what daily life is like in the areas in which we have been working. These pictures were taken by Kelly Zhang (Stanford PhD student) who was working in Central Province in Kenya.

Central Province is relatively well off compared to other regions in Kenya. Many of the primary schools we visited followed a layout similar to the one shown below, with classrooms opening out to an outdoor courtyard.

School Classrooms and Water Tank

The children at this school were lucky to have a water tank on the school grounds, shown in the middle of the picture above. At schools without water tanks, or at times when the tanks are dry, children must bring water from home.

It is rare to find computers in any of the rural schools (indeed, most primary schools we visited lacked electricity), so teachers rely on more traditional methods to organize the vast amounts of information a school must handle.

School Timetable

The weekly schedule at one primary school was kept on a giant chalkboard in the staff room, next to a list of the teacher’s names and contact information. Schools regularly post the school calendars, test scores, and budgets on chalkboards like this or hung on poster board.

The national government provides funding for primary education, but many schools find the government disbursements are insufficient to cover the costs of building maintenance and learning materials. Some entrepreneurial head teachers, therefore, institute income-generating activities at the school. This school was growing crops to provide some supplemental income to help meet the needs of the students and teachers.

School Crops

Other schools we visited had planted tea and banana trees, and some even tended livestock.

Much of Central Province is quite lush. Most people farm, and tea is a major crop in the region.

Tea Farming

We found tea buying centers across the region, and after harvesting the tea leaves, people bring them to the buying centers where they will be sold, then processed at a nearby tea factory.

In the town centers we visited, most buildings are simple cement structures.

Downtown Street

This a typical street in a town center in the areas we were working.

When our research team visited a new village for the first time, they frequently sat down with the village elders and other prominent members of the community to learn more about the community. Our obvious foreign presence often created a stir, and sometimes these discussion groups were attended by many more people than anticipated as local residents were eager to hear what we were doing in their community.

Kelly Zhang with village elder and other community members

In the weeks to come, I will post photographs from the places we worked in Nyanza Province, which is in general much poorer than Central Province.