One thing that Tuesday’s General Election has clearly demonstrated is the deep distrust among Kenyans in institutions that have been put in place to perform certain public functions.
As the European Union (EU) Election Observation Mission noted, no electoral process is a panacea for the lack of trust seen in Kenya’s perennially divisive politics.
Indeed, our elections technology, process and the people handling it have changed with each cycle, but claims of fraud and/or manipulation remain as loud as ever.
What this shows is that Kenyans don’t trust one another and, sadly, this distrust is based on past experiences and is deeply rooted in the negative role that ethnicity continues to play in all facets of life. Ultimately, all this works to undermine institutions tasked with managing elections and other aspects of our democracy.
As the EU noted, the distrust in institutions was clearly demonstrated in the attacks on both the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and the Judiciary. The observers rightly argue that technology cannot substitute such lack of trust in institutions and among citizens.
The job of defusing ethnic tensions ultimately lies with our political leaders. Whatever the outcome of this election, the incoming leadership at all levels would better start by acknowledging the ever deepening polarization of the country and work towards formulating policies that foster social harmony and cohesion.
Those in control of the levers of government must commit to carrying out their duties with fidelity to constitutional requirements of advancing peace, unity and diversity.
Hiring at the county and national governments must, as a matter of urgency, balance merit with ethnic diversity.
Indeed, the main reason why elections in Kenya are made to appear like zero-sum games is because members of the top leadership’s tribe invariably end up dominating public sector jobs and contracts.
This winner-take-all practice is reinforced by both leaders and the electorate, who are told to vote for specific candidates and parties if their community is to benefit from State largesse.
With observers agreeing that the elections were by and large peaceful and transparent, this is a good opportunity to begin the process of building an inclusive and fair government.
Most critically, IEBC must demonstrate that the elections were free of any major malpractice by concluding verification of the results and announcing credible outcomes.
We hope that the count will match those relayed electronically, a move that will undoubtedly give a large dose of credibility to IEBC and the entire electoral process.