Fresh row as EU monitors issue critical Kenya poll report

The EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) Chief Observer, Ms. Marietje Schaake PHOTO| COURTESY
The EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) Chief Observer, Ms. Marietje Schaake PHOTO| COURTESY

European Union election monitors said Wednesday that Kenya’s presidential poll had “weakened” the country’s democracy in a critical report that triggered an angry government response.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won a second term in an October rerun after his initial victory was nullified by the Supreme Court.

The opposition boycotted the fresh poll amid sporadic violence and divisive rhetoric.

“Kenyans went from high hopes for these elections to many disappointments and confrontations. Kenya remains deeply divided,” EU chief observer Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European parliament, told AFP.

The report was scathing in its criticism and, unusually, was launched in Brussels, rather than in the country where the election was held.

Schaake said Kenyan authorities were “not prepared” to receive her and her team for the launch. The EU monitors came under fire from both sides during last year’s drawn-out and disputed poll.

The bad blood continued on Wednesday with Kenya’s ambassador to Belgium and the EU, Johnson Weru, accusing Schaake of issuing the report ahead of schedule and of “contemptuous political grandstanding”.

The report found “the electoral process was damaged by political leaders attacking independent institutions and by a lack of dialogue between the two sides, with escalating disputes and violence.”

Kenyatta’s side threatened the judiciary after his August victory was overturned, while the opposition lead by Raila Odinga repeatedly attacked the election commission.

More than 90 people died in election-related violence, according to rights groups, most of them shot by police.

The report listed 29 recommendations — including legal and electoral reforms, strengthening of the election commission and improved technology — that could pave the way for better elections in 2022 when Kenyatta must stand down.

An electronic system for transmitting and tallying results was supposed to improve transparency after two previous disputed presidential elections, but instead the technology fuelled opposition suspicions of fraud.

“Technology cannot replace trust,” the EU warned.

The observers also noted widespread “misuse of state resources at national and local levels” that tilted the playing field in favour of incumbents.

Kenya has avoided the bloodshed that followed the 2007 poll, in which over 1,100 people were killed in post-election violence.

The EU nevertheless concluded that the 2017 elections “were characterised by a protracted and damaging presidential race that cost lives and weakened Kenya’s democratic functioning.”

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