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Kenya’s Supreme Court has given an impossible deadline for the repeat election

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Raila Odinga

The Kenyan Supreme Court has found that the August 8 presidential election result is invalid. It blames the electoral commission, not the declared winner, Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenya’s leading newspaper praises the decision as a step towards the rule of law, but I am less sure about what this means for the ability of the political establishment to stick to the terms of the country’s constitution.

The Supreme Court has given the country 60 days to hold fresh elections. The time period is in accordance with section 140 (3) of the Constitution, but the court failed to tell the public exactly what the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had done wrong. This leaves Kenya with a compromised commission rerunning an election.

Chief Justice David Maraga noted that the court had previously failed to provide a full judgment on the 2013 elections and this had not been received well. He then did exactly the same. Of course, the court had to provide a judgment on the opposition’s petition within 14 days, as stipulated by the Constitution. This is the period before the president-elect is inaugurated. The court would have sparked a constitutional crisis if it had not made any decision.

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But by not explaining how the IEBC has failed, the court has created a problem. It’s impossible to organize the next election and reform the commission in the time given.

Time pressure

The court gave itself up to 21 more days to deliver its full judgment. This would leave the country with only 39 days before the fresh election. Already, opposition leader Raila Odinga has declared that his coalition will refuse to participate in presidential elections under the current leadership of the IEBC.

But, as a newspaper commentator observes, it’s just not feasible to remove IEBC commissioners without a tribunal, which is then reviewed by parliament. Complicating matters further, three citizens have filed a separate petition to ask the courts to remove certain IEBC officials over their wrongdoing.

Even once the full judgment is handed down within 21 days of the ruling, it probably won’t indicate criminality at the level of individuals. The Supreme Court was asked only to determine the validity of the election overall. Its full judgment can indicate how the process of the election must be improved.

The election was judged to be void because the electoral commission was at fault. This suggests it must change its procedures – and perhaps its personnel – if better elections are to take place. A new election must avoid the errors of the previous one.

Political scholar Gabrielle Lynch explains some of the corrections that have to be made. These include the process for transmitting results, the use of security forces and the uneven use of state resources.

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Few of these suggested corrections will be feasible within the allotted timeframe.

Serious problems

Indeed, the problems are serious. Months before the election was held, the courts ordered the IEBC to stop printing ballot papers, because of claims that the Dubai-based firm Ghurair held too many links to Kenyatta.

The claim against Ghurair was dismissed due to insufficient evidence. But part of the IEBC’s successful defence against the court order was the time pressure of having to hold an election in a few months’ time. If time pressure was a valid reason then, why would it not be now? Why would an even more rushed election be credible?

The murder of the IEBC’s IT manager, Chris Msando, will now be under even closer scrutiny by the media. But even if the crime was directly related to the muddled tallying of votes, there isn’t time before the rerun to find individuals guilty. It is highly unlikely the full Supreme Court judgment will touch upon this tense topic. And that further reduces the credibility of the current IEBC.

Credibility concerns

The wider concerns with the IEBC date back to the “Chickengate” scandal. A UK court found a UK firm had bribed the IEBC (then the Interim Independent Electoral Commission) to get the contract to print ballot papers for the 2010 Kenyan constitutional referendum.

The UK co-conspirators were found guilty. But no-one from the Kenyan side was put behind bars by Kenyan courts. This created mistrust of the IEBC leaders. The current crisis will revive past anxieties like these, but leave no time for meaningful reform.

In Kenyan elections, local witnesses must sign the official forms to say the local tally is accurate. Central tallying organized electronically must then match with these local forms. The election is considered free and fair if this is done properly. The Supreme Court has ruled that both the IEBC as a whole and its chairperson, Wafula Chebukati, are responsible for the failure on 8 August.

Chebukati has refused to stand down. His response doesn’t boost public confidence in the institution. If the public is to trust the rerun, he must go.

Asking for more time

The IEBC should then petition the Supreme Court to give it more time.

It was done before, when the 2013 election was delayed because of the difficulty of implementing aspects of the new Constitution.

Section 86 of the Constitution requires the IEBC to collate the results of an election openly and accurately. At present, it can’t meet this requirement because it does not know what it must do differently from before. The IEBC should therefore depend on Section 86 when it asks the Supreme Court for more time. – Written by Dominic Burbidge, Postdoctoral Researcher, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford

Originally published in The Conversation

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South Africa’s land expropriation without compensation intentions have caught the attention of United States President Donald Trump.

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The People’s President

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Liberia president George Weah

It’s been quite an ascent for George Weah – from international football star to president of his country, Liberia. He was sworn in on January 22 to a crowd of adoring supporters who voted for a change, as well as heads of states and football stars, including Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o.

From one of Monrovia’s poorest slums, Weah made a name for himself as a talented footballer at Monaco at the age of 21, and went on to play for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards in 1995. During his illustrious career that ended in 2003 he also led Liberia’s national team. Musa Shannon, a Liberian businessman and former teammate with Liberia’s national team says Weah’s temperament on and off the field was unparalleled.

“He was inspirational and expected nothing but excellence from all his teammates. He was able to get the best out of everyone. He never took shortcuts.”

Considered the choice of the masses, Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his international celebrity status earned him tremendous support from the mostly youthful Liberian population, especially the poor. In the December run-off elections, Weah easily earned 61.5% of the votes over then Vice-President Joseph Boakai.

“He is the people’s president, he is the one they have chosen,” says Shannon.

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Weah’s win marks the first peaceful transition in decades for the Liberian people. “We have arrived at this transition neither by violence, nor by force of arms. Not a single life was lost in the process… this transition was achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people,” said Weah in his inauguration speech.

Although he moved from sport to politics, the transition hasn’t been sudden, nor without struggle. In 2005, Weah ran unsuccessfully against Noble Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who made history as the first democratically-elected female African president. Through his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, Weah ran again in 2011 as running-mate to Winston Tubman, losing again to Johnson Sirleaf.

Citing inexperience and a lack of formal education as the main reason for his losses, Weah earned a degree in business and took a seat on the senate in 2014.

“People speak of George Weah as though he doesn’t have a political history, so that if he doesn’t succeed they will say he was new to the game,” says Ezekiel Pajibo, political analyst and human rights activist. “He has been in politics for 12 years and there is no evidence of anything he has done for the Liberian people.”

Expectations are high. Weah promised jobs for the youth and poverty alleviation. Of Liberia’s 4.6 million inhabitants, over 60% are under 25, many of whom voted for him in the hopes of a quick reduction in unemployment.

He inherits a country that has survived two bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003, a fledgling economy and a young population that is largely unemployed. The Ebola epidemic, which killed over 5,000 people, also showed cracks in the healthcare system. The country still does not have adequate running water or electricity since the civil war, and properly staffed schools remain a problem.

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In his inauguration speech, he made a series of promises.

Firstly, he would stamp out corruption. Secondly, he would assist the private sector. Weah says he wants Liberians to stop being “spectators” in their economy while foreigners control the majority of their resources. Thirdly, he will focus on vocational training for the youth.

Promises must be followed by action. His party has been criticized by the opposition for not clearly outlining how these goals will be achieved.

There are also doubts about Weah garnering the same amount of respect from the international community as his predecessor. “He has to exude leadership capability and have presence in front of the international community. Johnson Sirleaf, as the first female president in Africa, brought international goodwill towards Liberia. She also had a history of working in development structures. President George Weah has none of that,” says Pajibo.

Weah achieved more than was expected of him as a footballer. Liberians will be hoping he can do the same as their country’s president. – Written by Lamelle Shaw

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