I spent the African Union Day last week in Ghana. The day, celebrated every year on 25th May by several African countries, is an opportunity to remember the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union.
Through the celebrations, a spirit of pan Africanism is expected to be rekindled in the hearts of the citizens of the continent. People are reminded of the common ancestry, shared history and collective aspirations.
In Ghana, the day is a public holiday. This is in accord with the history that Ghana is known for. Kwame Nkurumah, the founding father of the country, was one of the original champions of a pan-African identity. Despite Kenya’s stated commitment to the same Pan-African ideals as Ghana, the day is neither celebrated in the country nor widely known.
A few months ago, the country sought the chairmanship of the African Union Commission. By that time, we had a Kenyan as the deputy commission chairperson. It is sad that the day is neither a national day in Kenya, nor is it widely celebrated in the country.
The need to match words with deeds would be best captured by rethinking our Pan-African ideals and taking steps to actualize those ideals. Popularizing the African Union Day, as Ghana does would offer a good starting point.
The visit to Ghana was an exchange visit to study and learn their experience of election management and election dispute resolution. The first lesson we learnt from our hosts was the true continental spirit that the citizens of that country has.
Despite the fact that they had only two weeks to organise our visit, we had a most memorable experience, with those responsible for co-ordinating our meetings going out of their way to ensure that we received all the information we sought, we were comfortable and we got to know the country.
Reflecting on our nature as Kenyans, we reached the conclusion that many instances when visitors come to our country, we do not spare as much time to interact with them. This is despite the oft acknowledged fact that Africans by nature are generous and welcoming.
On elections, Ghana shares many commonalities with Kenya. During the course of the week we learnt a lot about both their 2012 and 2016 elections. It was insightful to discover how much they knew about Kenya and our elections and the governing legal framework.
At one meeting a participant surprised us with his discussions of the limit of seven voters per polling station, telling us that this was a change from the earlier 500.
Both these provisions, are less than a year in our statute books. Not many Kenyans know their existence. Another had intimate discussions on our National Tallying centre in Ghana. I wonder how many Kenyans have detailed information on the 2017 elections.
The second lesson for us was the low level of election petitions in Ghana. With 275 parliamentary seats, the number of petitions were less than 20 in 2012 and 2016.
In discussions with different stakeholders, there was unanimity that the levels of confidence in institutions in charge of elections, both the Electoral Commission and the Judiciary was truly commendable.
Kenya has to put in efforts to reach the same trust levels. This is a task both for the institutions themselves but also for the citizenry. Without confidence in electoral management institutions, elections will always result in disputation and challenges in Kenya.
Listening to many of the challenges that Ghana has with its electoral process, from technology, diaspora voting, political parties and voter registration one quickly notices the similarities of the challenges facing the African continent in its quest to improve the quality of its elections.
As one person told us, democracy and elections are a work in progress and an unending journey. You must always strive to improve it.
The process of making adjustments to the process of conducting our elections and resolving any resultant disputes requires reflections, commitment and concerted action. It is possible to move to an era where there are less and less disputes around election outcomes.
Ghana offers useful lessons in stakeholder commitment and determination to improve by public institutions. It is a lesson we have to take on board as Kenya in the true Pan African spirit.