Speakers at a forum held in Washington, DC have commended Kenya's growth in democracy and economy despite the challenges and dangers presented by the current electoral process.
“We have seen positive movement in Kenya's democratic progression over the last decade and a half,” declared Johnnie Carson, a retired US ambassador to Kenya who also held the top Africa post at the State Department during the first Obama administration.
The former envoy attributed the progress to a number of reforms, including promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, devolution of political decision-making and diminution of presidential power, a “decrease in electoral violence,” a growing willingness to take electoral disputes to court and “the emergence of a more independent and courageous judiciary.”
Carson was joined by six other panelists in the forum dubbed “Spotlight on Kenya” conference at a Washington think tank and warned that ongoing electoral uncertainties presents risks of political and economic stagnation.
Carson, however, noted that “democracy is messy, and Kenya's is no exception.”
Dr Korir Sing’Oei, a legal adviser to Deputy President William Ruto, highlighted some of the few discordant notes at an event dominated by polite consensus. His critical comments directed at opposition chief Raila Odinga contrasted with Mr Carson's favorable remarks about the Nasa leader. While Carson termed Mr Odinga as having said in regard to the electoral process, “You can't do the same thing the same way and expect different results,” the former envoy added, “You know something? He's right.”, Dr Sing'Oei accused the former Prime Minister of irresponsible behavior. “The uncritical adulation of opposition leader Raila Odinga by the international community has made his conduct to lack any sense of proportionality,” Dr Sing'Oei said.
He also castigated the Supreme Court ruling overturning the August 8th election, saying it sets “a very worrying standard because democracy is essentially about the vote.” “What this ruling has done is to make it almost impossible to deliver a credible election,” he warned. “It is indeed feasible that there is the potential for endless petitions,” causing “chaos, confusion, anarchy,” Dr Sing'Oei said. “At what point do we say enough is enough?”
Africa director for the International Republican Institute, John Tomaszewski noted the apex court's verdict that focused on an election process rather than on voting results themselves could have ramifications throughout Africa.
Mr Tomaszewski, whose organisation seeks to promote democratic norms outside the US, slammed the Kenyan media's coverage of the August 8th voting. “The media has to answer some questions,” he said, pointing to self-censorship prompted by pressures from political powers. “There is a need to have a brave media. There's no excuse for voluntary blackouts of things that are going on,” Mr Tomaszewski said in reference to disturbances that took place after the election which, he said, were reported and discussed on social media but not by the mainstream media houses.
“The media need to do a better job of digging deep and not just reporting information it's been fed,” he advised.
Lauren Ploch Blanchard, an Africa specialist at the US Congressional Research Service, defended the foreign observers' work. “A lot of soul-searching is going on in the international election observer community on how to do better,” Ms Ploch Blanchard said.
World Bank economist Kevin Carey praised Kenya's economic record in recent years, describing it as “an incredibly resilient economy” that performs well because it is broadly diversified. He, however, cautioned of two major challenges that will face whoever becomes president. He urged urgent need for “fiscal consolidation,” saying that the budget deficit is now an “extremely high number” of eight percent of GDP. “This cannot go on forever,” Mr Carey cautioned. "The government may have reached a limit on raising revenues as a means of reducing the deficit and may now have to implement spending cuts, he suggested. Interest rate caps act as a drag on the economy," he added. Putting such limits in place “curtails the ability to charge interest rates they might need to compensate for risks,” Carey said in reference to Kenyan lending institutions.