Back in 2002, I was politically naïve to understand Kenya’s political environment. But I remember vividly activities around the general elections. I recall the pregnant yet relatively calm atmosphere clouding one of the most decisive and historic elections in the country. The incumbent Daniel Moi had been in power for 24 years and this time he had hung his boots and opted out of the elections. There was a new wave of optimism especially from young people on a new dawn for the country.

The Carter Center which was part of the international observation group for the 2007 general electios, described it as one of the most peaceful elections in Kenya history. “Overall, the 2002 elections were conducted in a peaceful and tolerant manner. Thousands of Kenyans responded enthusiastically, often forming long lines at the opening of polls. Kenya’s 2002 elections mark the historic succession to President Daniel Arap Moi and stand as an example to the region and Africa as a whole. The Electoral Commission of Kenya is commended for its role in the conduct of the elections,” read a statement from the Center’s website.
The outgoing president handed over the instruments and reins of power to newly elect President Mwai Kibaki in a peaceful process witnessed by millions of people across the world. But 5 years down the line, Kenya held another election which was highly contested and the bloodiest in Kenya’s history. It’s like we took back thousands of steps.

The election had 2 main contenders- Incumbent Mwai Kibaki and his political nemesis Raila Odinga. There were allegations of election malpractices, intimidation of election officials which led to the contentious election. Violence erupted after Kibaki was announced the winner of the presidential election. There were mass protests, especially from opposition followers. Police shot hundreds of youthful supporters. At least 1,500 people lost their lives and a further 700,000 were displaced.
The 2017 elections though contentious were not as violent as the 2007 elections. According to Human Rights Watch “The elections were marred by serious human rights violations by Kenyan security forces, who used excessive force to break up protests and carry out house-to-house operations particularly in opposition strongholds.”

2017 was a historic year for the country. The opposition had gone to the Supreme Court to contest the credibility of the presidential elections and through evidence, the court argued that “The presidential election was not conducted per the constitution, rendering the declared results invalid, null and void.” The court ordered a rerun of the presidential elections in 60 days.

The nullification of Kenya’s presidential election results was a precedent-setting ruling by the court. It was the first time in the history of Africa, that a ruling has been made by a court nullifying the election of a president despite huge electoral malpractices marring African elections.

In 2019 at least 10 countries held their general or presidential elections. Malawi constitutional court became the second court in Africa to nullify the presidential elections in which President Peter Mutharika won, citing massive irregularities during the process. Malawi opposition leader Lazarus Chakwera successfully contested the reelection of President Mutharika and he went on to win the rerun in 2020. He termed the victory “a win for democracy and justice.”

How do these cycles of election malpractices and political violence affect democracy in Africa? In Kenya, after every election, losers troop to courts seeking to stop the winner from taking up a contested political position. The constitution guarantees them the right. When courts rule against the winner, voters are taken back to the polls. An election is a very expensive affair in Kenya and it costs taxpayers huge amounts of money. Kenya spends 2500 U.S. dollars per voter in an election. It spent a total of 536 million U.S. dollars on the two elections conducted in 2017. Are taxpayers who are struggling to survive because of the harsh economic environment able to finance such?

Africans see elections as an opportunity to exercise their democracy. When these processes are constantly marred by irregularities, intimidation, and violence, the voter begins to lose faith in the process. Amnesty International, reported the worst crackdown of opposition figures, media, and rights groups in the recently held Tanzania elections.
Are elections worth the lives of citizens? Why must African elections be a battlefield every other time?

Another very common practice is the unconstitutional revision of the law to ensure heads of state stay in power beyond their term limits. According to OUP Blog, there were at least 19 countries in Africa as of 2020 where the constitution had been revised to ensure a president stayed in power longer than they were supposed to. A good example is Zimbabwe, where citizens had to go to the streets in November 2017 to call for the resignation of President Mugabe, who had been in power for 29 years. Many other African countries; including Togo, Comoros, DRC, Chad, South Sudan, Ivory Coast, and Egypt have seen their presidential term limits modified in recent years.

When presidents have overstretched the bounds of their power and used their influence to revise the constitution for their benefit, citizens are denied a fair chance to make decisions that would impact their lives.
Majority of African countries are listed as either having a hybrid regime or an authoritarian government, and much of this is as a result of the majorly flawed elections.

Brandon Juma is a writer and junior researcher for The CARROT Co.

Mukami Mungai is a Communication specialist for The CARROT Co. Follow her on twitter and facebook: