Kenya, Zimbabwe and elections

…though Kenya is in a better position than Zimbabwe, neither country has achieved the necessary reforms, as set out by their respective power-sharing agreements, to hold free and fair elections in 2013. While Kenya continues along a slow but determined road towards democratisation, it needs to start focusing on reconciliation and national cohesion efforts, to create a support base for the institutional reforms that are being achieved. Zimbabwe on the other hand, needs to start taking its transition seriously. It should first establish a constitution that is owned and supported by the people, from which other legislative reform can emerge. Zimbabwe must also address social cleavages so that election violence is minimized and political disputes can be resolved peacefully but most importantly so that Zimbabweans can start rebuilding their country[1].


The conclusion from this report, based on a meeting between Kenyans and Zimbabweans in 2012, are hardly heart-warming. As the Kenyan elections draw to their conclusion, and Zimbabweans anticipate their forthcoming elections, where will either country be by the end of the year? Both welcomed back to the fold of responsible international citizens, or once again embroiled in the negotiating of new power sharing arrangements?


For both countries, a relatively simple formula was agreed in the power sharing arrangements: new constitutions, reforms and then elections. Kenyans achieved their new constitution with huge consensus and enormous public participation, and then were able to engage the processes of reform needed ahead of elections. Zimbabweans have been caught up in an acrimonious process throughout the period of constitutional consultation, producing a draft at the eleventh hour, and consequently no reforms of any substance have taken place. In fact, the differences between Kenya and Zimbabwe in the area of reform are marked. As the Idasa report points out:


In summary, Kenya has been more successful than Zimbabwe in creating strong independent institutions. Kenya, despite several cases of procedural irregularity, has a more balanced relationship between the parties to the coalition government, and this has led to an ability to develop and adopt legislation and follow through on institutional reform. The gains made in this field include the adoption of a new constitution as well as ECK, security sector and judicial reform. In Zimbabwe, by comparison, the lack of independence of institutions due to the power imbalance has all but blocked reform, most specifically, reform of the Security Sector, the Judiciary and the ZEC. Both countries have failed to address media bias, corruption or electoral violence institutionally, presumably because those responsible for addressing these issues fear implication in the planning or orchestration of such activities[2].


Constitutions are only as good as the institutions that can implement and protect them, and this will be the acid test in examining how successful the two experiments have been. Perhaps it will be the constitutional process that will be the bench mark for seeing how well reform and then elections take place, and certainly there are huge differences between Kenya and Zimbabwe in this respect. Kenya was able to produce a draft in very good time that was very strongly supported by its citizens in a very peaceful referendum. Zimbabwe, by contrast, has had a miserable time of it, still has serious dissenters, and probably will get qualified acceptance in a low poll. And whether Justice Chiweshe is correct or not in his interpretation of the law, it is nonetheless unacceptable that citizens have such little time to examine the constitution.


As RAU and many others have continually pointed out, behind this sorry state of affairs in Zimbabwe is the blunt refusal of one party to contemplate the kinds of reforms necessary to the holding of decent elections. The other party demands reforms but passes on every significant issue that would demonstrate its commitment to reform. And so the needed transformation of “captured” state institutions has not taken place. The reforms in Kenya are not wonderful, but there has been reform in many areas, civil society has been visible and engaged in this, and consequently the electorate has gone into this election in great numbers. Assuming that it does not go as wrong as it did in 2008, and the losers accept their loss, Kenya may have made a very serious step towards consolidating its democracy: not because of elections per se, but because the reforms of state institutions created the conditions for good elections.


This is not the case for Zimbabwe, and, looking into the crystal ball, we might predict highly qualified support for the constitution, elections that lead to dispute and non-acceptance of the results, and more wrangling over what form a new GNU should take. And this is simply because the formula in Kenya – constitution AND reform, then elections – has not been the formula in Zimbabwe, where were have been forced in a less desirable formula – constitution, then elections and THEN reform.


The need for reform in Zimbabwe will be demonstrated once again with the release by Idasa on Friday of a detailed analysis of the state of Zimbabwe’s “democracy”, this time in a book authored by women researchers. This will undoubtedly show how much needed to be done under the GPA, and how little has in fact been done.

[1] See Eaglestone, A (2012), Ready or Not? Elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe in 2013. February 2013

Monitoring and Measuring Democracy Team, Idasa.

[2] See again Eaglestone, A (2012), Ready or Not? Elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe in 2013. p10.


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