The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) sent shock waves across the country when different commissioners gave inconsistent positions on the credibility of the recent presidential election. Kenya is no stranger to public drama by IEBC Commissioners. In 2017, an IEBC Commissioner resigned ahead of a re-run of the presidential election and fled to the US. Then followed the resignation of three commissioners alleging the improper removal of the CEO and claiming lack of faith in the IEBC chairperson’s leadership.
Once again, and just as the IEBC chairperson was announcing the presidential election on 15 August 2022, four commissioners rushed to Serena Hotel to issue a presser disowning the results for what they termed as the “opaque” manner in which the results have been handled. Counteraccusations ensued, with the IEBC chairperson accusing the commissioners of attempting to “moderate results”, an allegation that they vehemently opposed. At the core of this IEBC circus is whether commissioners have a role to play in counting, tallying, verifying, and announcing the presidential results. Public opinion has been divided over the role of the IEBC commissioners in the conduct of the presidential election but what many pundits have ignored is the role and structure of the IEBC, as part of the independent commissions, which might shed light on the commissioners’ role in the presidential election.
This piece argues that a holistic reading of the constitution on the conduct of the presidential election reveals that the IEBC, including the commissioners, should be involved in all stages of the election. To prove this, it makes three arguments. First, Article 138(3) (e) of the constitution enshrines the role of the IEBC as a body in the conduct of presidential elections. Second, the jurisprudence on the running of the business of the IEBC provides for the centrality of the commissioners as the “linchpin of the Commission”. Third, the architecture of the independent commissions as watchdogs of democracy ingrains internal checks and balances and disfavours limitless powers of an individual or of one arm of the commission. Lastly, the paper debunks the analogization of the role of the IEBC and chairperson and returning officers. It offers three reasons why the parallelism of the two positions commits the logical fallacy of false analogy or false equivalence.
This article proceeds on the assumption that the IEBC chairperson exercised the role of the national returning officers to the exclusion of other commissioners. It is informed by the chairperson’s statement released on 17 August 2022, where the chairperson quotes the role of returning officers as being to tally, verify, and announce results. He concludes, “The role of the National Returning Officer for Presidential Election is not shared responsibility and not subject to Plenary decision of the Commission.” The paper argues that the chairperson of the IEBC has failed to examine his role in the context of the entire constitutional provisions on the conduct of the presidential election and operations of the commission.
While the failure to involve the commissioners raises an important question, this piece observes that it is not enough to overturn the election. Beyond demonstrating the lack of participation of the commissioners, it must be shown that there is a “substantial effect” on the integrity of the election as a whole.
Role of IEBC chairperson vis-à-vis the other commissioners in the conduct of the presidential election
As in any other election, in the presidential election, under Article 86 (c) of the Constitution, the IEBC is required to ensure that the results from the polling stations are openly and accurately collated and promptly announced by the returning officer. This generic provision lays out the oversight role of the IEBC in the conduct of the election. Public discourse over the election has been engrossed in the question of the exact duty of the commissioners in the conduct of the presidential election. Some have taken their scepticism to the extent of questioning the reason for voting if the commissioners “have a say in the presidential election results”. Others have argued that the law only requires the IEBC commissioners to vote only on the business of the commission, and the presidential election is not a business of the commission.
While the arguments on the commissioners’ role and the perception of subversion of the will of the people raise an essential question, these contentions fail to address the broader context of the presidential election. The presidential election requires a heightened oversight because of its importance and critical nature in Kenyan society. This part considers the constitutional provisions which give the commissioners a general oversight role, including verification of forms 34A and 34B to determine their accuracy.
Some have taken their scepticism to the extent of questioning the reason for voting if the commissioners “have a say in the presidential election results”.
It is crucial to first clarify that this debate is not about the quorum of the IEBC. The quorum of the IEBC has been used to conflate it with the debate on the role of the commissioners in the presidential election. However, the question of the role of commissioners is distinct from the question of quorum. Quorum addresses the question of whether there are enough commissioners to transact business, an issue that was settled in the BBI case. The pertinent issue in the current discourse is the role of commissioners since they were present but did not participate for lack of a part to play in the process. For quorum to be an issue, all commissioners should have received a notice to attend the plenary, but only the minimum number availed themselves.
The structure of independent commissions as commission-centric
A holistic reading of the constitution on the nature of the independent commissions reveals the integral role that commissioners play in overseeing the implementation of a commission’s functions. In this part, I argue that most proponents of a super-chairperson of the IEBC on the national tabulations of presidential results fail to read the constitution holistically. Specifically, they fail to examine the structure and functioning of the independent commissions, including the IEBC. An isolationist and narrow reading of Article 138 (10) of the constitution on the role of the IEBC chairperson will lead to an erroneous conclusion that the IEBC chairperson collates, tallies, and verifies forms 34A and 34B received from the polling stations. This piece cautions against drawing hasty conclusions regarding the role of the IEBC chairperson from reading a single article of the constitution.
Chapter 15 of the constitution provides for the architecture of the independent commissions. Article 249 of the constitution decrees the object of these bodies as the protection of sovereignty, and promoting democracy and constitutionalism. The commission’s composition and nature are listed in Articles 250 and 253 of the constitution, and it is stated to be a corporate body. The commission as a body functions in a manner that guarantees internal accountability, as depicted by the uneven number of commissioners and the insistence that the existence of the commission depends on the existence of commissioners.
Most proponents of a super-chairperson of the IEBC on the national tabulations of presidential results fail to read the constitution holistically.
Kenyan courts have discussed the place of commissioners in relation to the secretariat. A close look at some of the foundational cases on independent commissions will shed light on the relationship between the chairperson of the IEBC and commissioners as a body. One typical running theme is that the commissioners are the linchpin of the commission, and no duty is beyond the commissioners’ oversight since they are the nub of the commission. This argument does not mean they have unfettered powers—even to the extent of changing election results—but they can oversee and note mistakes on the report to be submitted to the Chief Justice.
At the centre of their function is policymaking for implementation by the secretariat, and oversight. The rationale for the emphasis on the centrality of commissioners is that they are responsible for realizing the mandate of the IEBC as an enabler of democracy and a guarantee of the right to self-determination. The secretariat assists the commission in the discharge of its mandate. Court decisions on the relationship between the secretariat and the commissioners reveal the vital place of commissioners in discharging the commission’s mandate. In the Constitutional Application N° 2 of 2011, the court was emphatic that “the several independent Commissions and offices are intended to serve as ‘people’s watchdogs’ and perform this role effectively”.
Courts in Kenya have termed the existence of commissioners as a foundation for the powers of the secretariat. The implication is that for a commission to exist properly, it must have commissioners; from there, all other functions flow. Ordinarily, the outcome of the functioning of the secretariat should be ratified by the commissioners of the IEBC. In Michael Sistu Mwaura Kamau v Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and 4 others 2017, the court stated,
“The Secretary and the Secretariat can only carry out the powers vested in their offices when the Commission exercises its powers since they implement what the Commission has resolved. The Commissioners must ratify the outcome of the tasks undertaken by the Commission’s staff if they are to be deemed as the decisions of the Commission” (Emphasis mine).
Therefore, given the central position of the commissioners in the conduct of all functions of the IEBC, they cannot be excluded from an essential role in the national conduct of the presidential election. Although officers of the IEBC might have specific statutory duties, the exercise of their functions is subject to general oversight by the commissioners. Therefore, officials such as returning officers assist the commissioners in conducting the election at the lower levels. It is illogical to argue that returning officers can exclude the commissioners from oversighting the elections they are conducting.
Misuse of the tag of national returning officer
The general posture of the Kenyan constitution is that it adopts a pessimistic outlook on those who wield power. This position of the constitution informs the distribution of duties among various parts of the IEBC. Here, I will argue first that Article 138(3) (c) of the constitution provides for the general task of the IEBC as a body, the chairperson’s role being limited to the announcement of the presidential election results under Article 138 (10) of the constitution. Second, I will contend that the constitution does not eliminate the oversight role of commissioners regarding the presidential election. Third, the constitution is aversive to an individual exercising monopoly of power. Put differently, the constitution favours the distribution of powers, oversight, and internal checks and balances. Lastly, I will deflate the false analogies of equating the chairperson of the IEBC in the conduct of the presidential election with other returning officers. I will argue that it is a simplistic view of the conduct of the presidential election.
As a body the IEBC has the role of the conducting of the presidential election. Article 138 (3)(c) of the constitution provides that in the presidential election, the IEBC shall tally, verify, and declare the results after counting the votes in the polling stations. This role is given to the commission as a body to be discharged by its employees with the commissioners’ oversight. At the national level, the IEBC verifies and tabulates forms 34As and 34Bs to generate form 34C. All commissioners have a right to be involved in the tabulations in the exercise of their oversight role over the employees of the IEBC.
Although officers of the IEBC might have specific statutory duties, the exercise of their functions is subject to general oversight by the commissioners.
Unlike Article 138(3)(c), which provides for the general role of the IEBC, Article 138(10)(a) of the constitution provides that the chairperson of the IEBC shall declare the results of the presidential election. The implication of this is that the role of the chairperson is exclusive in so far as the declaration of the presidential result is concerned. The chairperson does not single-handedly oversee the secretariat in the generation of form 34C, which contains the collated presidential election results. Additionally, the commissioners have a role under Article 86 of the constitution to ensure that results are accurately collated and announced by returning officers. In this case, and for argument’s sake, even if we equate the chairperson to the returning officers who announce the results, the commissioners will have an oversight role over him on how the national total results are arrived at. This oversight will ensure that the chairperson of the IEBC is accountable to the commission in the conduct of such an important role. The Court of Appeal in Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing LLC v Coalition for Reforms and Democracy and 2 others 2017 held that the commissioners formulate strategy and oversight IEBC employees and the commission’s functions, meaning that the tabulation of results in the forms was subject to the supervision of the commissioners.
To counter the above arguments on the commissioners’ involvement, some people have argued that commissioners are not required to oversee other elections before various returning officers announce them. This argument fails to consider the unique nature of the presidential election in our constitutional design. Of course, all polls are unique, and in substance, they are supposed to adhere to the same constitutional principles. However, due to the controversies surrounding the presidential election, the constitution favours the involvement of commissioners as a collegial body to guarantee electoral integrity. Because of Kenya’s history in the presidential election, the constitution requires heightened oversight at all election levels, especially the final national tabulations.
The other counterargument offered is that the IEBC chairperson exercises the powers of a returning officer, which are individualized duties not subject to the plenary powers of the commission. To answer this claim, I make three arguments. First, the characterization of the role of the chairperson of the IEBC as a presidential returning officer does not mean that the commissioners are excluded from oversight of the national tallying of the presidential election. Put differently, the characterization should not affect examining the exact constitutional dynamics between commissioners. Thus, the commissioners have a role in oversighting the chairperson of the IEBC because he exercises the commission’s mandate.
Due to the controversies surrounding the presidential election, the constitution favours the involvement of commissioners as a collegial body to guarantee election integrity.
Secondly, while the role of the IEBC chairperson has a similarity with that of the returning officers of other elections, they are not the same. Under section 38 of the Election Act, the returning officer is responsible for conducting the election. Further, section 39(1A) of the Election Act provides that the returning officer is responsible for tallying, collating, and announcing the election results. In contrast, Article 138(3)(c) of the constitution provides that the responsibility of conducting the presidential election lies with the IEBC. While the chairperson of the IEBC exercises specific duties similar to those of IEBC returning officers, the constitution explicitly adopts the language of the IEBC as a body when addressing the specific electoral duties such as counting, verifying, and tabulating the presidential election. Contrasting Article 138(3)(c) of the constitution with Article 138(10)(a) of the constitution, which provides that the IEBC chairperson shall announce the presidential election, demonstrates that he exercises constricted powers. When it comes to the announcement of the results of the presidential election, Article 138 (10)(a) of the constitution drops the language of the commission and specifically identifies the chairperson as the individual with the role of declaring the aggregated results. Therefore, if the constitution wished the chairperson to singlehandedly exercise the role laid out in Article 138(3)(c) of the constitution, it would have included it in Article 138(10) of the constitution or in any other part that exclusively addresses the duties of the chairperson of IEBC.
Thirdly, the involvement of the chairperson of the IEBC in announcing the presidential election demonstrates a constitutional intention of engaging the highest levels of the commission in the national tabulations of results and declarations. The functions listed under Article 138 (3)(c) of the constitution, especially the national tabulation of results, involve the highest organs of the IEBC. The rationale for this involvement of the highest organs of the commission is not hard to discern, owing to the perennial controversy surrounding the presidential election in Kenya. The commissioners are selected with a unique obligation of securing democracy, and what other level epitomizes this democracy if not the presidential election? The stakes in the presidential elections are very high in Kenya, and it would be barmy not to involve the entire commission or vest the national level powers only in the chairperson of the IEBC. Granting the IEBC chairperson the exclusive role of the presidential election returning officer to the exclusion of the commissioners has no serious constitutional value. With regards to the manipulation of results, the presumption should be that the more transparency and involvement, the less likely it is for them to be changed.
Relevance of the Maina Kiai case
The import of the case of Maina Kiai on the powers of the chairperson of the IEBC has caused considerable controversy in the country. Some have argued that the Kiai case addressed the issue of whether the chairperson can change the results declared at the polling station. Others have argued that Kiai’s statement on the powers of the IEBC chairperson was an obiter dictum. This part seeks to answer these questions and make the fourth argument why the commissioners of the IEBC should have been involved in the conduct of the presidential election.
The answer to the concerns raised regarding the relevance of Kiai on the discourse on the role of commissioners is both “yes” and “no” because the case touches on the role of the chairperson of the IEBC and yet not in the manner in which the four commissioners cite it. On the one hand, the Kiai decision is relevant to the extent that it indicates the scope and nature of the role of the chairperson of the IEBC. Although not exactly dealing with the current crisis, it elucidates the role of the chairperson of the IEBC in the conduct of the presidential election. On the other hand, the Kiai decision does not address the role of the commissioners versus the chairperson of the IEBC in the conduct of the presidential election. The implication is that when the court is discussing the limitation of the powers of the chairperson of the IEBC, it is doing so in the context of whether the chair can alter the results announced at the polling level. Nevertheless, the Kiai case sheds light on the nature of the powers of the chairperson of the IEBC. From Kiai’s case, it is clear that the chairperson exercises limited powers, and the constitution disfavours the chairperson from having exclusive powers in the presidential election other than the announcement of the collated results.
The commissioners have a role in oversighting the chairperson of the IEBC because he exercises the commission’s mandate.
The constitution disrelishes the concentration of powers on one individual in the conduct of an important election such as the presidential one. This is to ensure an effective discharge of the role of the IEBC as the safeguard of democracy and the right to self-determination. The nature of the independent commissions as having embedded checks and balances was articulated by the Supreme Court in the matter of the National Land Commission (2015). The court believed that checks and balances were the mainsprings of accountability. It stated that “the spirit and vision behind the separation of powers are that there be checks and balances and that no single person or institution should have a monopoly of all powers.”
The commissioners provide a heightened level of oversight and verification, which means that the chairperson cannot act unilaterally in the tabulation of forms 34A and 34B. It is illegitimate for the chairperson to conduct the presidential election in an exclusionary way, especially the generation of form 34C without the involvement of other commissioners. This conduct goes against the rationale of the independent commissions, which is to be the people’s watchdog for democracy. The Court of Appeal captured this position in Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission v Maina Kiai & 5 Others (2017):
“To suggest that some law empowers the appellant’s Chairperson, as an individual, to correct, vary, confirm, alter, modify, or adjust the results electronically transmitted to the national tallying centre from the constituency tallying centres, is to donate an illegitimate power . . . We reiterate, as we conclude that there is no doubt from the architecture of the laws, we have considered that the people of Kenya did not intend to vest or concentrate such sweeping and boundless powers in one individual, the Chairperson of the appellant.” (Emphasis mine.)
In sum, while the Kiai case did not directly deal with the role of the commissioners and chairperson, the obiter indicates the limited powers of the IEBC chairperson. The court in Kiai’s case reinforced the need for a limited role of the chairperson of the IEBC in line with Article 138(10) (a) of the constitution. Thus, to ensure the IEBC’s accountability and checks and balances, it is constitutionally absurd to exclude commissioners from verifying the presidential election.
Failure to include the commissioners must substantially affect the election
Overturning an election should not be an easy task for any petitioner. This is because the election represents the people’s will, and the courts should be slow in overturning the people’s expressed will without clear and convincing evidence. There is also a presumption that the actions undertaken by government officials are legal unless they are impeached by evidence. The other concern is that elections are expensive, and for a developing country like Kenya, economic realities should be balanced with constitutional purity.
Globally, no election is perfect, so normal errors do not suffice to overturn an election. The core question is whether the errors or irregularities are substantial enough to overturn an election. Section 83 of the Election Act provides that non-compliance with the constitution and the law must substantially affect the election. In Raila Amolo Odinga & another v Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission & 2 others (2017), the court held that trivial irregularities are not enough to overturn an election, and the error must have a substantial effect on the election. Further, the court noted that the election should be looked at as a whole to determine whether the constitution has been substantially breached.
The Kiai decision does not address the role of the commissioners versus the chairperson of the IEBC in the conduct of the presidential election.
The failure to involve commissioners in generating form 34C should not automatically invalidate the election. The constitution does not adopt a purist approach to the election. Instead, all mistakes must substantially affect the integrity of the election. A presidential election is a highly regulated process. If it is proved that the results in forms 34As and 34Bs were collated adequately at the national level, the non-involvement of the commissioner will not rise to the “substantial effect” level.
However, if it were to be demonstrated that the failure to include the commissioners led to unverified results, which have numerous mistakes, then the non-involvement would have substantially affected the election. The errors would not be characterized as “harmless errors” because they would have a tangible effect on the election’s credibility. The commission as a body would have failed to realize its mandate of conducting a free and fair election as enshrined in Article 86 (c) of the constitution. Thus, the commissioners’ oversight role in the conduct of the presidential election would be unconstitutionally impeded, leading to the unverifiable and inaccurate collation of results at the national level.
To conclude, a hasty and exclusive reading of Article 138(10)(a) of the constitution would lead to the erroneous conclusion that only the chairperson of the IEBC has the role of tallying, verifying, and declaring presidential results in forms 34A and 34B. However, a holistic reading of the constitution and jurisprudence on the structure and the functioning of the IEBC demonstrates that commissioners should be involved in generating forms 34C for the presidential election.
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Changes in Suicide Reporting Welcome, but Slow
Without a deeper understanding of the harm insensitive reporting on suicide causes, attempts to change may be wrongly deemed as political correctness.
Earlier this year, the Baraza Media Lab and the Centre on Suicide Research and Intervention published a report that looked at how broadcasting stations report on suicide on social media. Its contents were sobering. Many leading media houses were found to report suicide as a criminal act. Reports also contained harmful elements such as descriptions of suicide methods and imagery of suicide and did not provide helpful information for readers who may be thinking of suicide.
So how have journalists been reporting on suicide since the data was collected? A very cursory survey of news outlets on social media shows reasons for both optimism and worry. Over the course of 2023, media outlets have published more stories about mental health, indicating an increasing awareness of it. This year has also seen an increased number of responsibly written social media posts that take into account the need for sensitivity on suicide.
Now, the negatives. Knowledge on responsible reporting of suicide, while improved, remains inconsistent across news operations. Real progress will require further integrating social media into editorial processes, subjecting its copy to as much rigour as the stories themselves to ensure errors are not introduced once stories are completed. Also, many insensitive references to suicide on social media were accurately reproduced from news stories.
The term “committed suicide” continues to appear on news websites, even in stories where responsible reporting would be expected, such as those that explore the risk factors of suicide. Stories use the insensitive word “suicidal” in phrases like “treating suicidal people as criminals” and “people who are suicidal”. The same insensitivity is also observed in the phrase “mentally ill” – ironically in stories that call for acts of suicide to be decriminalised.
It’s not clear that all journalists understand why respectful reporting on suicide is necessary. It was interesting – and revealing – to see a media outlet’s official X account, formerly known as Twitter, include both the terms “died by suicide” and “committed suicide” in the same tweet.
News websites continue to narrate morbid details about the manner of death by suicide. You are still likely to find phrases like “the body was found hanging in his room”, a man “who set himself ablaze” and “doused himself in a flammable substance before setting himself ablaze while carrying the Kenyan flag”. The imagery of suicide, with the noose particularly prominent, continues to be used in stories, inadvertently advertising hanging as a suitable method.
It’s not clear that all journalists understand why respectful reporting on suicide is necessary.
Media outlets aired insensitive footage. One camera focused on a woman overcome with emotion, who understood she was being filmed. One story goes as far as to narrate that instead of dissuading the deceased from taking his own life, a bystander handed him a lighted match and taunted him over unsuccessful attempts to light himself on fire, displaying the contempt people have for people thinking of suicide and inviting viewers to agree with those ideas.
The approach to reporting suicide varies depending on whether the person who died by suicide had committed a violent crime just prior, usually another killing. Reports are more likely to use “died by suicide” where the only death reported is by suicide. On the other hand, when person who died by suicide had killed another person, the phrase “committed suicide” is used freely.
The approach to reporting suicide varies depending on whether the person who died by suicide had committed a violent crime just prior, usually another killing.
Yet the same responsibility to reduce the prominence of suicide applies even in the context of crime reporting, and steps that broadcasters take to make footage of murders acceptable, such as using trigger warnings and black and white for bloodstains, may still be unacceptable in the context of suicide prevention. According to a 2021 brief by the University College Cork, Ireland, no graphic footage should be used in reporting murder-suicides, and care should be taken to discourage copycats, or position murder-suicide as a solution to anything.
Without a deeper understanding of the harm insensitive reporting on suicide causes, attempts to change may be wrongly deemed as political correctness, resulting in disrespectful coverage that tries to “say it as it is” and neglects to include sources of help for people who may be thinking of suicide.
Why President Kagame Should Not Run for a Fourth Term
The 2024 elections in Rwanda are an opportunity for the country to move away from strongman leadership to enable the emergence of strong institutions and a governance that is more tolerant of critics.
The constitution of Rwanda was amended in 2015 to allow President Paul Kagame to stand for a third term of seven years. Kagame was re-elected in 2017 and his term ends in 2024. The change in the constitution also allows him to stand for a fourth and a fifth five-year term. In my view, President Kagame should not run for a fourth presidential term in the 2024 elections.
President Paul Kagame was appointed Vice President and Minister for Defence on 19 July 1994, immediately after the end of the war and the Rwanda genocide. When President Pasteur Bizimungu resigned in 2000, Kagame was elected by the Transitional National Assembly to replace him. Three years later, in 2003, Kagame was elected president and has been president of Rwanda for over two decades. He has, therefore, risen to higher levels of decision-making over three decades, a sufficient period of time during which to oversee the implementation of policies he thought would advance the betterment of Rwandans. Kagame should, therefore, consider letting another willing and capable Rwandan build upon his achievements and continue to advance Rwanda’s interests. Indeed, under Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda has made some achievements but there are also shortcomings.
First, from a war-torn country, Rwanda has emerged to become a state with well-defined and functioning structures and institutions supported by fairly clear legislations. In my opinion, this has been achieved thanks to Kagame’s administration’s commitment to bring about change in Rwanda manifested immediately after the end of the war and the genocide against the Tutsi.
Second, Rwanda has also made some economic gains even though these can be challenged in many aspects. In 2000, Kagame made a pledge to transform Rwanda from a low- to a middle-income country driven by a knowledge economy by 2020. Since then, the Rwandan economy has grown significantly and its GDP per capita has increased from USD304 in 1995 to USD940 in 2022. The country’s human development index has soared and Rwanda has been recognised by the World Health Organization as one of the countries that are performing well on the goal of achieving universal health coverage. The country’s life expectancy has increased significantly, from 47 years in 2000 to 67 years in 2020. Moreover, according to UNICEF, the government has made some improvements in expanding education for all across Rwanda.
Lastly, through a meticulously executed campaign of communication, compelling narratives have been disseminated across the world that speak well of Rwanda. This along with the country’s commitment to deploy its soldiers to multinational peacekeeping missions across the world (Rwanda ranks fourth on the list of countries that contribute in peacekeeping in the world) has enabled Rwanda to strengthen its foreign relations with other countries and project its image as a development success story.
There are certainly more achievements that President Kagame has made during his 30 years in leadership that his replacement can learn from and retain to move Rwanda forward. However there are shortcomings. Kagame managed to put the country back on the world map but failed to create an environment for the country’s citizens to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Upon taking power following a military victory, his political party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), pledged a consensual democracy to Rwandans. But over time this democracy has transformed into a political system that suppresses political dissent, restricts pluralism and curtails liberty in Rwanda. Most affected are those who dare or are perceived to challenge his government’s narrative in Rwanda and abroad. In many instances, Kagame’s government has abused its power, colluding with the judicial system to criminalise his critics. As a result, Rwanda has repeatedly been categorised as not a free country by Freedom House.
This has led to independent and inter-governmental human rights organisations and representatives of developed countries that financially support Rwanda to publicly criticise his leadership for lack of political inclusion, human rights violations and the overall democracy deficit in Rwanda. This situation continues to tarnish Rwanda’s reputation that Kagame’s leadership has been working hard to restore.
Furthermore, independent reports on the development of democracy and governance throughout the world – and in Africa in particular – all point out that citizen participation in Rwanda remains limited, as do local NGOs.
Political participation in Rwanda is limited only to those who adhere or are willing to be affiliated to his political party, the RPF. This has prevented the emergence of a genuine opposition that could have provided checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda. The repercussions are that lack of accountability within public institutions is rampant and Kagame has many times publicly criticised officials in his administration for not delivering as they should. In fact, the pledge he made in 2000 to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country driven by a knowledge economy has not materialised and Rwanda remains a low-income country to date.
Failure to effectively engage citizens in decision-making has also resulted in the implementation of development policies that do not meet the immediate needs of the population. Hence, the economic gains made by Kagame’s administration can be challenged in many aspects as previously pointed out. For instance, substantial public funds have been invested in the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) sector while less has been allocated to education, agriculture, and rural infrastructure development. Thus, despite remarkable economic growth and a significant improvement in the human development index registered by Rwanda since 1994, these achievements are tarnished by high inequalities in income, health and education. Furthermore, they are characterised by economic injustices such as unfair land expropriation and the uprooting of farmers’ crops. Rwanda’s human capital development remains below the average for African countries due to a lack of quality education and high levels of malnutrition among children below five years. Only 41 per cent of households in Rwanda are considered to be substantially food secure. The private sector’s contribution to growth has remained small and growth is predominantly led by state-owned enterprises and those belonging to the ruling party. Overall, Rwandans have been consecutively ranked among the bottom five least happy populations on the global happiness index.
Failure to effectively engage citizens in decision-making has also resulted in the implementation of development policies that do not meet the immediate needs of the population.
Over the past three decades, curtailed civil liberties and mounting social inequalities have seen Rwandans seek refuge abroad and prevented from returning to their homeland those who had fled Rwanda after the RPF took power in 1994. This situation has exacerbated the issue of Rwandan refugees that has persisted since Rwanda’s independence.
In particular, under President Kagame, the unresolved issue of Rwandan refugees settled in Rwanda’s neighbouring countries has been a source of political tensions between Rwanda and its neighbours. The Rwandan government has maintained that there are negative forces resident in eastern DRC that are out to destabilise Rwanda, a reference to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The FDLR is an armed group formed by Rwandan refugees in DRC who, following their forcible eviction from Rwanda during the genocide, resorted to armed struggle as a means of retaking power in Rwanda. Despite Rwanda’s armed forces launching military operations against the FDLR on numerous occasions on Congolese soil in collaboration with the Congolese army, the Rwandan government continues to insist that the FDLR is a threat to Rwanda’s security.
The United Nations has twice – in 2012 and 2022 – accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, an armed group that is fighting in the eastern DRC. This conflict has displaced populations and led to the death of millions of African civilian lives. In 2016, the UN Security Council accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the aim of ousting the then Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza. Western countries have suspended or withheld aid to Rwanda over allegations that it supported the M23 in 2012 and some of Rwanda’s donors have recently publicly called on the Rwandan government to stop supporting the M23 and remove its troops from eastern DRC. The European Union and United States of America have sanctioned Rwandan military officials for backing the M23. The US has placed Rwanda on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List and suspended its military aid to the country due to Rwanda’s support of the M23, which the US says recruits and uses child soldiers. Not only do these allegations of Rwanda’s involvement in the regional conflict further tarnish the country’s image that Kagame’s administration has worked hard to restore, but the tensions with neighbouring states have also prevented Rwanda from maximising the benefits of regional integration and trade for its development.
President Kagame should not run for a fourth term as the governance of Rwanda needs to be reformed so that it becomes more tolerant of critics, democratic and inclusive. To successfully implement such reforms in governance requires a new leadership with fresh perspectives and approaches that will be able to build on Kagame’s achievements in order to address unresolved historical grievances of Rwandans and at the same time enable Rwanda to maximise its potential in the region and experience genuine development.
President Kagame should not run for a fourth term as the governance of Rwanda needs to be reformed so that it becomes more tolerant of critics, democratic and inclusive.
Considering Rwanda’s history of long-serving strongmen who have taken power, retained it and lost it through violence, the 2024 presidential election is an opportunity for Rwandans to experience the transfer of power in a peaceful and transparent manner as has been the case in neighbouring countries including Burundi, DRC and Tanzania. It is an opportunity for Rwanda to move away from strongman leadership to enable the emergence of strong institutions to take the lead instead. This can be achieved by building on the legislations that have been reviewed and implemented under Kagame’s leadership. Therefore, while recognising with gratitude the achievements that he has made over the past three decades, Kagame’s greatest achievement yet would be to step away from power at the end of his term in 2024. In so doing, Kagame will have paved the way for better leadership in Rwanda and opened the door to future generations of Rwandans aspiring to become leaders in Rwanda.
Why Kenyans Demanded an Apology from King Charles
The traumatic legacy of British colonialism lingers in Kenya to this day, and this is why Kenyans were demanding an apology from King Charles.
Many British people are surprised that King Charles’s visit to Kenya was not welcomed by many Kenyans and human rights organisations. People whose families had suffered at the hands of British colonialists during his mother’s reign demanded an apology for crimes committed. Although the British monarch expressed “deepest regret” for the atrocities committed by the British in Kenya, he fell short of making a public apology.
However, many Brits believe that there is nothing the king needed to apologise for. One presenter on Sky News even wondered why Kenyans were calling for an apology from the king given that Britain had done much “good” in the country. After all, he said, without any hint of irony, the British Empire had brought democracy to Kenya (how he equated imperialism with democracy beats me) and given Kenyans “the gift of the English language”.
It was obvious that the presenter had been taught British imperial history that has whitewashed the atrocities that the British Empire committed in its colonies around the world. British children are to this day taught that British colonialism was a “civilising mission” that brought modern education and infrastructure, in addition to Christianity, to regions that were steeped in ignorance and backwardness. Apologists for the British Empire, such as the historian Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, argue that Britain should be congratulated for conquering the world because British civilisation brought science and technology to people who held superstitious beliefs, and injected a “work ethic” in populations that were lazy and lacking in imagination. This is sort of like saying that slave owners did slaves a favour by shipping them to the Americas and forcing them to work for free because these slaves are now US citizens and enjoy all that America has to offer (even though it took them four centuries to gain rights as equal citizens).
A few months ago, the editor of a German magazine contacted me to ask whether I could submit an article on the atrocities the British had committed in Kenya during colonialism. He told me that while his magazine had documented human rights violations by German and Belgian colonialists in places like Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it had largely ignored the violations committed by Britain in places like Kenya because the majority of Germans believe that British colonialism was not as brutal as that of other European powers, and that its net impact on its colonies in Africa had been positive. It dawned on me that perhaps Europeans are not being told the true story about colonialism and its horrific impact on Africans. So, here’s primer.
Erasure of memory
Kenya officially became a British colony in 1920, but prior to that, from 1895, it was deemed a “protectorate” – a term suggesting that the colonisers who grabbed the land were there to protect the interests of the “natives” who would benefit from being colonised. A widely held belief is that because Britain spearheaded the abolition of slavery, the British were “benevolent” colonisers, unlike the French and the Belgians who plundered and looted their African colonies. (In addition to extracting raw materials and exporting items such as ivory and rubber, the French and the Belgians also stole invaluable artefacts from their colonies in West and Central Africa, which today are displayed in museums across Europe, including in Britain, despite efforts by African governments to have these artefacts returned to where they were stolen from.)
Yet, those who care to join the dots between the anti-slavery movement and the colonisation of Africa are acutely aware of the fact that the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 (dubbed the “Scramble for Africa”) that carved up Africa among European nations, including Britain, took place just a few years after slavery ended. Because slavery was no longer legal and was costly to maintain, the only other way Europeans could extract cheap labour and highly profitable resources from Africa was by colonising the continent.
In order to justify colonisation in settler colonies like Kenya and Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia), it was necessary to erase evidence of atrocities committed by the Europeans. Many of these atrocities remained unacknowledged and unreported for decades because archival documents were either destroyed or deliberately concealed. British historian David M. Anderson, author of Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya, discovered that thousands of documents belonging to the British colonial administration were flown to London in 1963 on the eve of Kenya’s independence and remained hidden from the public for decades, despite attempts by successive post-independence Kenyan governments to have these “stolen papers” returned to Kenya.
The magnitude of these atrocities was finally revealed in 2005 when the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’ book, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, was published. The book documents the many crimes that British colonial officers committed in Kenya in their relentless pursuit of wealth, land and power for themselves and in the name of the British Empire. Mau Mau fighters and their supporters were subjected to extreme forms of torture, including castration, whipping, waterboarding and electric shocks.
The areas where these Mau Mau revolutionaries were arrested, detained, tortured or killed in the 1950s were in and around the Aberdares mountain range in Central Kenya where Queen Elizabeth, during an official visit to Kenya, ascended to the throne after the death of her father, King George VI, in February 1952. Eight months after she became Queen of England and head of the British Empire, a state of emergency was declared in Kenya that allowed the British Colonial Office to detain people without trial. Many freedom fighters languished in camps or jails where they were subjected to torture.
Mau Mau fighters and their supporters were subjected to extreme forms of torture, including castration, whipping, waterboarding and electric shocks.
The Mau Mau rebellion was a reaction to the expropriation of some 7 million acres of the most fertile land in Central Kenya and the Rift Valley – dubbed the White Highlands – in the early part of the 20th century after the building of the Uganda Railway, which opened up the interior of East Africa for British colonisation and settlement. The indigenous population was pushed into so-called reserves while others became squatters on land that was once theirs, working for white farmers for very little wages.
Elkins estimates that between 160,000 and 320,000 detainees, mostly from the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu ethnic groups, were tortured or maimed by the British at the height of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, although official figures state that the number of detainees was no more than 80,000. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Mau Mau militants were killed. Further, more than a million people, mainly in central Kenya, were detained in camps or confined in villages known as “reserves” (which have been described as “concentration camps”) surrounded by barbed wire. Tens of thousands of people held in these dense and unsanitary guarded camps and villages died from hunger or disease.
To justify these atrocities, British officials painted the Mau Mau as savage “terrorists” because of the violent and brutal methods they used to hunt down and kill white settlers and local informers. Official figures show that Mau Mau fighters killed 32 British settlers and 1,819 indigenous people whom they believed to be spies for the British.
Today what the British Empire did in Kenya might be perceived as a form of ethnic cleansing, but because colonisation was not unfashionable then, the atrocities were not condemned, nor was anyone tried. It was only in 2011, during a landmark court case brought against the British by a group of Mau Mau veterans, that the British government, under legal pressure, admitted that the documents were in a high-security facility that also contained files from 36 other former British colonies. (In 2013, 5,228 Mau Mau veterans were awarded £20 million in compensation by a UK court, which amounts to roughly £3,000 per victim, a paltry sum given the suffering they endured.) One of these documents contained details of eight colonial officers stationed in Kenya “roasting detainees alive”. All of the accused officers were granted amnesty.
Official amnesia and disinformation were not just part of a deliberate campaign by the British Empire to whitewash the crimes it committed in its colonies in Africa and elsewhere, but also a strategy employed by post-colonial governments in Kenya to cloak their own complicity in ensuring that British interests in the country were preserved.
Post-independence Kenyan elites benefitted from colonial policies that alienated Africans from their own land and became the biggest beneficiaries of post-independence land grabs disguised as land redistribution or adjudication. After independence, the so-called home guards or loyalists became the biggest beneficiaries of land and political power. According to Kenya’s 2013 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report, “Rich businessmen and businesswomen, rich and powerful politicians who were loyal to the colonial administration, managed to acquire thousands of acres at the expense of the poor and the landless.” Hence, “instead of redressing land-related injustices perpetrated by the colonialists on Africans, the resettlement process created a privileged class of African elites, leaving those who had suffered land alienation either on tiny unproductive pieces of land or landless.” Even today in Kenya, members of freedom fighting movements like the Mau Mau remain landless and poverty-stricken while those who sided with the colonialists are among the richest people in the land.
After independence, the so-called home guards or loyalists became the biggest beneficiaries of land and political power.
The Mau Mau remained a proscribed organisation for four decades after independence. It was only in 2003, when Mwai Kibaki became president, that the Mau Mau were recognised for the role they had played in Kenya’s struggle for independence. Kenyatta Day on 20 October was renamed Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) to commemorate all those who died while fighting for freedom. In 2007, a statue of Dedan Kimathi was erected in Nairobi’s central business district, and in 2015, following the 2013 UK court decision to compensate Mau Mau veterans, the British government put up a Mau Mau memorial sculpture in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park “as a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau and all those who suffered”.
Despite these symbols of reconciliation and healing, the traumatic legacy of British colonialism lingers in Kenya to this day. This is why Kenyans were demanding an apology from the King – because the wounds have not yet healed. While a public apology might not have been enough to completely heal the wounds and traumas of the past, it would have been an important first step.
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