We did not fail Kenya, we must not fail democracy: Emeka Anyaoku defends the Commonwealth's role in the elections

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THE Independent of 25 January charged that 'the Commonwealth failed Kenya'. It alleged that Commonwealth observers at the Kenyan elections, despite clearly highlighting the significant flaws in the democratic process, 'ducked the crucial issue' by failing to pronounce the poll invalid. They 'averted their eyes from the evidence . . . their bluff was called' and allowed political considerations to override their collective judgement. As a group, they were prepared to tolerate fraud and 'clumsily avoid a damning verdict'.

These are serious charges, indeed. They go to the core of all that the Commonwealth has done to promote democracy in its member states. They impugn the integrity of those involved. They present the Commonwealth - which in the past two years has monitored five national elections, two of them resulting in a change of government - as no more than a paper tiger, tamed and without its roar. They deserve a response.

The Commonwealth's assistance to Kenya in its move towards multi-party democracy has not been confined to the recent elections. Over the past year, there has been continuing political and diplomatic interaction - with President Daniel arap Moi and his government, and with the opposition parties - to encourage Kenya to create a climate in which democratic elections could take place. The Commonwealth also provided technical assistance for the election preparations. Even the Commonwealth's fiercest critic, in possession of all the facts, would agree that the Commonwealth helped to sustain the process, especially when its derailment seemed inevitable.

As the elections approached, serious impediments remained that, if unaddressed, would have jeopardised the entire process. In November 1992, I therefore visited Kenya for the third time in six months to discuss with President Moi, the Electoral Commission and opposition leaders ways of creating a level playing field and building greater confidence among parties participating in the elections. It is on record that, thereafter, recognisable improvements were made in the way the Electoral Commission and the authorities approached their tasks.

All also recognised that most Kenyans clearly wanted the chance to express their will in a democratic election. From the outset, the difficulties were formidable. The organisational tasks alone - the first multi-party elections in more than two decades and simultaneous ballots for presidential, parliamentary and civic elections - were daunting. There were, even then, other obvious imperfections.

But, given the wish of all the parties to contest the election, even under those conditions, and their expressed welcome for a Commonwealth presence, I decided to proceed.

The Commonwealth group that observed the elections consisted of 25 distinguished parliamentarians, jurists, election specialists and diplomats, from 18 Commonwealth countries. In support was a seasoned team of 15 Commonwealth Secretariat staff. The group represented a careful balance of specialism, region and country, and, so far as the parliamentarians were concerned, political affiliation. No observer was a representative of any individual government. Rather, I had invited each to serve in a personal capacity. All that the Commonwealth asked for, apart from their unpaid labour, was their collective judgement at the end of the process. For my part, I made clear that, whatever their verdict, I would make public their report in its entirety, without fear or favour.

In their interim statement issued immediately after the poll and before the results began to emerge, the group revealed how difficult their task had been in reaching a final judgement. Their report documented aspects of the elections that were not fair. These were compounded by numerous administrative problems.

Nevertheless, there was much that was positive. Whatever the problems surrounding the Electoral Commission before the elections, the group concluded that 'at least in the last few weeks before polling day, the Electoral Commission made every effort to act responsibly, impartially and openly'. They observed that, on polling day, 'millions of enthusiastic people cast their votes in a general atmosphere of calm throughout the country'.

They were not able to provide the whole electoral process with an unqualified rating as free and fair, but neither did they conclude that the process had been sufficiently flawed to render it invalid. Their unanimous conclusion and that of other observers, both local and international, was, to quote Forster, 'two cheers for democracy'; that, despite all the imperfections, the process was sufficiently free and fair as to be a largely valid expression of the will of the Kenyan people. As such, it constituted 'a giant step on the road to multi-party democracy'.

Let me offer an apt analogy of the problem facing the group. Their task was like that of a doctor examining a sick man to determine whether he should be discharged from work as an invalid. His conclusion might be that, although the patient was clearly not well, the illness was both curable and insufficient to merit the verdict of invalidity.

For those who have welcomed the renewal of the Commonwealth's role in promoting its fundamental political values, the swearing-in last week of 100 government and 88 opposition members elected to the new parliament in Nairobi, after so many years of one-party rule, must be regarded as truly significant.

It has been said that 'a lie can be halfway round the world before truth has got his boots on'. The truth is that the Commonwealth did not fail Kenya. Nor will it. Mindful of the spectre of Angola, the Commonwealth will continue to provide Kenya with the assistance it needs to consolidate its transition to an assured


The author is Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.