We have witnessed in recent weeks the blatant theft of an election in Kenya. The way it will ultimately turn out nobody knows, but already a huge amount of damage has been done, to the people, the economy and the progress of democracy in Kenya. It is worth looking at another fairly recent African election, in Nigeria, to gain some perspective on why this has happened again and what the consequences could be for Kenya if resistance to electoral fraud isn’t successful.
First of all, the positives. The opposition in Kenya have not lain down or been scared off by heavy handed police tactics. They have managed to get their choice to be speaker in the parliament, the third most powerful position in the country, despite the presiding clerk’s pathetic appeal to “not make this political”. The other positive has come from the fact that other countries have recognised that a fraud has taken place and have made it clear that they want a resolution that in some way brings in the opposition (though by rights, the only resolution should be that Mr Odinga is made president). The United States initially accepted the result, happy to have Mr Kibaki in power again as he has been supportive of their so-called war on terror, whereas Mr Odinga was supported by most Muslim voters. However, even they have backtracked on seeing that no-one else was willing to wholly swallow this fraud, and they are now demanding a compromise.
Of course, any such compromise would still essentially be rewarding the fraud, as it would leave Mr Kibaki in some position of power, even though the people of Kenya have just voted him out. It could be worse though; it could be Nigeria. In April last year there was massive fraud in both Nigeria’s parliamentary and presidential elections. So massive was the fraud that an independent Nigerian observer group called the election a “sham” and the EU dropped its normally mild condemnation of fraud, saying that the elections were not “credible” and then issuing their most damning report of an election anywhere, ever.
The massive corruption involved in the election in Nigeria serves to highlight the problem that blights the country and serves to hold it back. Those in power have little checks on their spending, and so the rewards of office are vast, and none want to give it up. People lower down in society are denied the fundamental services that government should provide due to this, and so, following the example set by the ruling class, are driven to corruption themselves, though in their case it is in order to survive. This top-down corruption affects the whole of society. In the massively oil-rich Rivers State for example, the governor has a huge budget to spend on a relatively small number of people. But with few checks on spending, twice as much was spent on helicopters in 2006 than was spent on healthcare. Then there are the new cars, gifts, catering and the private jet, whilst the people of the state remain amongst the poorest and least educated in all of Africa.
Whilst this kind of corruption is not new to Nigeria, the fraudulent elections of last year serve to further re-enforce it. As the president, Mr Yar’Adua, and his party blatantly stole an election, they are explicitly endorsing corruption and the theft of power, and anything else that you can get. They will not fight corruption on anything more than a superficial level, as they are the beneficiaries. This was highlighted by the recent sacking, on a minor technicality, of probably the most popular man (or least popular if you are a member of the ruling class) in Nigeria. Mr Nuhu Ribadu had made a name for himself by doing his job with zeal, and as the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had been hunting down corrupt politicians and state governors for their looting. However, he started getting too close to those who support the president, and as Mr Yar’Adua (pictured) stole the election, he needs all the supporters he can find.
So, with a phoney president in charge and the head of the anti-corruption body removed, how does the world react to this oil-rich nation? This week Britain’s High Commissioner, Mr Robert Dewar, has said that Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign will restore the confidence of the international community and create a great deal of opportunities for foreign investors, and that Britain wholly supports Mr Yar’Adua’s commitment to implement economic and electoral reforms. He managed to say this with a straight face. Also this week, the World Bank decided to invest over $2.4 billion on projects that will include “governance”, after commending Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts over the past four years. No-one from the bank mentioned the stolen election or that the man largely responsible for any improvements in corruption levels has just been forced out. The World Bank’s Africa region vice-president, Mrs Ezekwesili, another person with a remarkable ability to keep a straight face, publicly agreed with Mr Yar’Adua’s observation that “corruption is a cancer stunting the country’s development”. Well, he should know.
The benefits of this fraud for those in power in Nigeria have shown why those in Kenya have been tempted to follow their example, as so far there have been no negative consequences for them. It should also show the opposition there that if they back down in their fight now, the international community might suddenly forget their conscience and go straight back to dealing with whoever is in charge, however they got there. It doesn’t bode well for attempts at fighting corruption in Kenya either, another country where this is already a huge problem. The unfortunate lesson that others may take is that if you want to steal power, you should make sure it is done in both the presidential and parliamentary polls, to stop the rightful rulers gaining a foothold.
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This post was written by Ian Broughton