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Posted on Monday, 08 April 2013 17:41

The thing about Kenya and Ghana

Prince Ofori-Atta

Kenya and Ghana are at antipodal continental lengths, but they have shared a similar electoral tale.

 

A victim of its own success, apathy has marked international media coverage of Ghana's post-election litigation. At the same time the international community held its breath as Kenya's Supreme Court ruled on the winner of that country's 4 March presidential election.

When initial results showed that the electoral-violence-prone East African country had elected two International Criminal Court (ICC) indictees to power, the media went into overdrive. This left a similar yet under-reported case in Ghana – minus the ICC drama - on its way to international media oblivion.

And so armed to the teeth with piles of evidence [...] they marched to the Supreme Court

As Ghanaians got ready to hit the polls on 7 December, a month after hotly contested US presidential elections, one issue that kept on rearing its bothersome head was the viability of the new biometric voting registration system.

In the US, heated debates over unjust voter suppression on the one hand and fraud prevention on the other ahead of the 2012 presidential elections, by virtue of electronic identification and voting systems, had been brought to the fore by some sections of the media.

But it was the reported frustration caused by technical glitches on the US's election day, coupled with claims that these electronic voting robots could be tweaked to falsify results that tickled a real sense of unease among many Ghanaians who had been following the US elections with unparalleled interest.

As Ghana's election date drew closer, many in both the opposition and ruling parties expressed their misgivings over a probably dicey decision by the West African country's Electoral Commission (EC) to use the biometric system.

Ghana's election day did not prove sceptics wrong. The absence of contingency plans as some biometric machines ground to a screeching halt with some failing to work, to the chagrin of local officials, saw long queues at many polling stations.

And to deal with the backlog of voters who were unable to cast their vote by the end of the voting day due to the faulty biometric machines, an unprecedented second day of voting was announced by the EC.

Like in the US, some voters recorded the malfunctioning machines with their mobile phones. This complicated an already sticky situation for Ghana's EC, which had been accused of being in bed with the ruling political party, National Democratic Congress (NDC).

But that was only the beginning of a long story that would see Ghana's biggest opposition party- the National Patriotic Party (NPP)- in a face-off with the EC at the Supreme Court in a case of electoral fraud.

International observers who were jetted in just before the elections had judged the process to be free and fair. In hindsight, it would seem that these observers were far from being conversant with the intricacies involved in pre-election arrangements as well as the counting arithmetic.

Delays, as results trickled in from the 275 constituencies, were denounced for being even slower than earlier non-biometric-related results. Tallying results phoned in by both opposition and ruling party officials from polling stations differed from what the EC was announcing.

Among a myriad of reported cases was one involving parliamentary candidates from the NPP in a couple of constituencies. Initially presented with disappointing results, they insisted on a recount. It came as no surprise when the recount swung the victory in their favour.

In the meantime, the EC was struggling to account for about 127,000 new voters who had been added to the voters' list after the legal timeframe for additions had passed. The original 14,032,000 registered voters, as announced by the EC right before the elections and in line with the country's constitution, had swollen to 14,158,890.

In a country where the previous elections had registered a 40,000 vote-difference between winner and loser, the additional 127,000 looked like a real big deal.

And so armed to the teeth with piles of evidence against the EC and the ruling party that they believe would render a whopping 4,637,305 votes null and void, NPP marched to the Supreme Court on the 28 December, exactly 21 days after the elections.

While Ghana's constitution stipulates that the aggrieved party in such a case has a maximum of 21 days to file against the election results, it seems to have overlooked the importance of imposing a time limit for a judicial decision.

The oversight led to a game of delay tactics being played in court by the respondents to the petition – EC and the NDC.

By the first week of April, over three months after NPP's presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, dragged the issue to the Supreme Court, the case had barely been heard.

With Ghana and Kenya's elections so widely spaced, little did anyone suspect that the two countries would become involved in similar disputes, with Kenya taking the lead in dealing with its contentious bone.

A Ghanaian opposition political analyst, Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko recently remarked "Kenya's Attorney-General Githu Muigai, acting as a friend of the court, said Kenya's Supreme Court must congratulate itself because a similar petition is pending in Ghana after their December election but their court is moving slowly".

Kenya's constitution is more farsighted. Aggrieved parties had a week after the electoral process to file a dispute, and the court had until midnight 30 March to deliver a ruling.

Leading the charge in what he claimed had led to the counting of some 170,000 illegitimate votes from 20 polling stations by Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the country's Prime Minister, Raila Odinga quickly filed against the results on 16 April.

My father and your father

IEBC's announcement that Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country's first post-independent president, had clinched the presidency with 50.07 percent of total votes cast with Raila Odinga getting only 43.3 percent was taken to court for clarification. A razor-thin margin of 8,100 votes separated the two men.

As the case went to court Odinga innocently reminded Kenyans of a longstanding political cum family feud when he told reporters that his "father [Jaramogi Oginga Odinga] worked to get his father [Jomo Kenyatta] released from detention by the British authorities".

The feud between the fathers of the two political rivals dates back to the immediate years following Kenya's independence from Britain. Their fathers were Kenya's first post-independence president and vice-president, respectively.

Odinga's father fell out with Kenyatta's father and fought the latter tooth and nail in opposition after he resigned as vice-president.

The sour point between the fathers, Kenyatta and Odinga, was land. The issue of land nationalisation and redistribution, as the British colonialists left Kenya, was one that Odinga was intent on clearing up. Kenyatta and his clique had other plans.

During their 2013 election bid, the question of land reform crept up again with Odinga questioning Kenyatta's ability to address the issue. Today, it is widely reported that the Kenyatta family owns some 500,000ha of land in the East African country.

On 30 March, Kenya's Supreme Court's ruling upheld Kenyatta's narrow first-round victory. Despite getting the backing of civil society groups who filed petitions claiming irregularities during the elections, Odinga's hope for a run-off was not to be.

But old sores have seemingly been pricked after Odinga's promise to keep looking for other "peaceful" ways of resolving "this issue" soon after the Supreme Court ruling. Observers who agree with Odinga argue that the short timeframe in which they had to operate did not encourage the Kenyan justice system to dig deeper in order to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the elections were really free and fair.

Unlike Ghana, where the peaceful nature of its elections since its return to democratic rule in 1996 has led to apathy in the international media, leaving its recent electoral litigation widely uncovered, there has been a particular interest in Kenya's 2013 elections for two reasons.

The East African country's 2007 post-election violence has remained widely engraved in the international media's collective memory. And among those accused by the ICC of inciting the violence that cost the lives of over 1500 people are the two men on the winning presidential ticket, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto.

The two, as it stands, are to appear before the ICC to answer for their roles in the mass killings in the disputed 2007 elections. But the legitimacy of the recent democratic process against the ICC indictment has left the diplomatic community between a rock and a hard place.

Nonetheless, while Kenya's president and vice-president-elect were only to be sworn in after the Supreme Court's decision, another oversight in Ghana's constitution meant that a president-elect could be sworn in whether or not the Supreme Court had decided on a contentious electoral process.

With any sort of governance limbo avoided in both cases, however, it became obvious that any sense of urgency in dealing with a screaming judicial imbroglio in Ghana was frustrated after the swearing in of President John Mahama.

Three days after Kenya's swift handling of its post-electoral litigation that threatened to leave weighty question marks for Ghana's snail-paced judicial process, a conscience-stricken Supreme Court finally moved to set the record straight. Among other strict new rules, they set 15 April aside for the hearing of the 2012 poll petition.

Sadly, as the case continues, international media coverage would depend on the promise of chaos, without which the world would be deprived of a rare opportunity to witness the strengthening of democracy in an African country.



Prince Ofori-Atta

Prince Ofori-Atta

Prince M. Ofori-Atta is the editor of TheAfricaReport.com. He is a founding member of World Radio Paris, a community radio station in Paris, France. He is also a member of the Paris-based Cercle Andrew Young, a journalism Think Tank. Ofori-Atta edited Afrik.com between 2008 and 2011.

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