BY RAILA ODINGA
I have been away for three weeks on distinct missions whose sum total point in one direction in terms of Africa’s future.
I was in the US between October 8 and 11 for a series of engagements in Yale University to highlight the developments that have taken place in Africa in the last 10 years and put them in perspective for the youthful global community in the university.
Some of these changes in the areas of democracy and economy have occurred between March 2000 when the Economist declared Africa “a Hopeless Continent” and 2010. By December 2011, the same magazine proclaimed “Africa Rising.”
That is why Yale asked me to speak on Afro Optimism; has the pendulum swung too far?
We discussed the acceptance of multi-party politics, improvements in health and education, explosion in telecommunication, discovery of mineral resources and the unprecedented economic growth that has seen six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the last 10 years being African.
It is agreed that these positives have not occurred in a vacuum or on their own.
They are Africa’s democracy dividend for which our citizens who stood up against grim faced and clenched fist dictators should feel vindicated.
But we also agreed that monumental challenges remain, including need to invest in value addition so that we can export finished products, need to convert regular multi-party elections and economic progress into good governments and respect for rule of law, ensure freer societies, separation of powers, independence of the media and the judiciary, devolution of power and resources, restriction on presidential power and respect for term limits.
More important on the economic front, we need to share the proceeds of this growth fairly and equitably. As some areas and some people have benefitted immensely from this growth, others have remained stuck at the bottom of the ladder.
Worries also persist over corruption through which Africa loses $148 billion annually, an amount equivalent to 25 percent of its GDP.
So it is an ironic twist of sorts to arrive here and find the country in the middle of a massive land scam right here in the city that has roped in government officials in a manner that only says that in Kenya, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Land has been our most abused resource. To paraphrase our economist David Ndii, land is the thing that most divides the haves and have-nots. Those who have it can leverage it to borrow money to invest on it and prosper. Those who don’t can suddenly find themselves squatters on their own land at any time because a powerful person went and got a title deed for it. It is the ultimate index of greed, illegitimate wealth and power.
Land has seen people move from hustler to entrepreneur status without breaking a sweat. As the government makes harambee the official vehicle for development, we can only expect more of this stealing of land.
From Yale, I travelled to Mozambique as head of the joint EISA/ Carter Centre Election Observation Mission. Mozambique polls ended peacefully and all is well that ends well. They provided lessons to be learnt on conduct of elections.
From Maputo, I travelled to South Africa for a conference on interventionism in emergencies, political crisis and disputes that dot the continent.
In the three forums; Yale University, Mozambique Elections and conference on interventions, three issues clearly emerged, all of which I concur with and all of which we, as Coalition for Reforms and Democracy have been advocating.
Electoral reforms, equitable sharing of wealth and respect for presidential term limits are emerging as the next big challenges Africa must brace itself for.
We have embraced multi-partyism and most of our nations now hold regular elections.
The next question we have to deal with is whether those elections meet the high threshold in terms of transparency, credibility, accountability and ensuring that every voting age citizen is registered and votes, that every vote counts and every vote is counted.
In CORD, we believe that as a country, we have a historic opportunity to embrace the challenge and brace the trail to push vigorously for reforms in the conduct of elections as the next frontier in the continuing journey of democratization on the continent.
That is why we will continue to push vigorously for greater role for political parties in the conduct of general elections.
There is clearly a need for parties to appoint representatives to the IEBC with a mandate to be the party’s watchdog within the agreed rules governing elections.
We will also seek to have it in our constitution that results announced by presiding officers at the polling station are final and IEBC’s role will be to provide the national tally. There is no rationale whatsoever for IEBC officials sitting in Nairobi, to purport to be verifying figures sent to them by its agents at the polling stations.
That system has only succeeded in creating more confusion and room to manipulate the will of the voters.
We want to instil accountability and clarity by making it constitutional that voter registration, voter identification and transmissions of election results will be through a pure electronic mode, not a mixture of electronic and manual.
We will also seek to amend the constitution to ensure that the IEBC has ONLY ONE national voter register which shall be published at least 30 days to the general elections.
We will seek a constitutional provision that the IEBC shall provide any person, at the person’s request, the data or document used in elections within 24 hours of such a request in either electronic or hard copy or both.
We are also keen to amend the Constitution to include mechanisms for ensuring that all regions have equal opportunity to access voter registration and voting stations. These measures will ensure fairness, transparency, effectiveness, accountability and accuracy in the electoral process.
Provision of data within 24 hours will ensure that a person who wishes to challenge an election outcome has all requisite evidence.
Tied to the holding of free and fair elections is the need to enforce and respect term limits.
Across the continent, many leaders are revising their constitutions to remove term limits.
This is the next big thing waiting to explode. It has the potential to destabilize swathes of the continent where citizens will be demanding that leaders hand over power.
In Kenya, we have never shied from taking the lead. We took the lead in demanding reforms throughout the post-independence period. That is why somehow, we escaped the curse of instability that characterised much of the continent throughout that period.
Reformers must now set their sights higher and take on these next big challenges on electoral reforms which are going to determine the stability of our country and the Continent in the coming years.
I have heard some argue that we cannot reform or change electoral systems every year. No sentiment could be more wrong.
Nations that care how leaders come to power and what citizens say are persistently revising election procedures to improve on previous performances.
They use every election as a springboard towards better systems.
In the US, the controversial 2000 US presidential election outcome triggered increased attention to the administration of elections including technology, voter access, early and absentee balloting, and voter registration.
South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, among many fellow African nations have lately been talking electoral reform, and for good reason.
Kenya must not be different and CORD is ready to lead.
(Nairobi, October 22, 2014)