Africa Peer Review – Waste of time in Kenya?

Was the APRM process in Kenya a waste of time?

Lessons that should be learned for the future

Bronwen Manby
Senior Programme Adviser, AfriMAP, Open Society Institute

“There is a need for a healing of the nation. The process of national healing and reconciliation is unlikely to proceed as long as society is still polarized. In addition, without also addressing past crimes, corruption, marginalization and poverty, it is unlikely that reconciliation can be achieved.”

This is not a quote from a report on the recent election violence in Kenya, but from the country review report of the African Peer Review Mechanism, presented two years ago by the APRM panel of eminent persons to African heads of state and defended by President Mwai Kibaki himself on the margins of the July 2006 African Union summit.

The report went on to consider previous violence in Kenya, making observations that are just as valid today as when its writers made them. The APRM eminent persons noted ‘the role of prominent members of the ruling party and high ranking government officials in fuelling the so-called ethnic clashes’. They complained that many of the people involved ‘have neither been investigated nor prosecuted. Some have continued to serve as senior officers, ministers, or members of parliament. The inability to act (against them) tends to underline general public perception of impunity, while at the same time constricting the ability of people to come to terms with the past experiences of injustice and violence thus further aggravating and reinforcing polarities and suspicion.’

All in all, the APRM country review report made a remarkably frank assessment of Kenya’s problems. The report did not shy away from highlighting issues of corruption, especially in land allocation, nor from the ethnic tensions that have been so horribly demonstrated in recent weeks. It identified ‘overarching issues’ that Kenya would need to address, starting with ‘managing diversity in nation building’, and going on to filling the ‘implementation gap’ between policy and action on the ground; addressing poverty and wealth distribution; land reform; action against corruption; constitutional reform; and addressing gender inequality and youth unemployment.

Finally and notably, the report called for ‘transformational leadership’ – leadership that ‘recognizes the need for dramatic change in a society’ and that ‘entails not simply directing change but managing it in a way that ensures broad ownership, legitimacy and self-directed sustenance and replication of change in all associated systems.’

Thus, just two years ago, Kenya was being lauded as one of the first countries in Africa to complete the process of examination by the APRM, while the resulting report provided a hard-hitting analysis of the challenges the country faced and made some important recommendations on the way forward. The country’s decision to sign up for the APRM was supposed to be an indication of commitment to good governance and respect for the principles of democracy and human rights. Had the problems the APRM report then highlighted been tackled, it is possible that the violence and distress of the 2008 crisis could have been avoided. And yet nothing was done. What went wrong?

The Kenyan APRM report does have some weaknesses. Most importantly, it does not identify the issues relating to the independence of the Electoral Commission of Kenya that were so critical on election day and in the following period. This in turn reflects a weakness in the APRM questionnaire that guides the reviews, which does not focus on electoral management and its independence, but rather the simple fact of holding elections.

A much greater weakness lies in the gap between the country review report and the programme of action which is supposed to set out concrete, costed actions that will address the problems identified in the report.

For example, the review report decries the lack of independence of the judiciary, and especially the vulnerability to executive influence of the process for nomination and appointment of judges. The eminent persons noted that during their visits to Kenya, they had received reports of incidents in which prominent government officials either disobeyed court orders or expressed an intention to disobey them. They state forthrightly that, ‘The Chief Justice being an appointee of the President is not trusted to be able to take an independent decision’ – the very reason why Raila Odinga and his ODM party rejected the insistence by the incumbent PNU that any challenges to the election results should take place in court.

Yet the programme of action talks only of ‘enforcement of judicial reforms and existing administrative measures to ensure members of the bench improve efficiency, accountability and monitoring of judicial functions’. There is no mention of steps to end executive interference and ensure respect for the rule of law.

In other areas too, the programme of action shies away from the difficult political issues, focusing rather on capacity building and resource mobilisation; matters to which even President Kibaki could happily agree – and in many cases had already done so as part of ongoing donor-financed reforms.

But the biggest concern is the issue of political will. Was the Kenyan government ready to try to fix what was broken? Were the APRM eminent persons and secretariat willing to hold them to account? And were other African heads of state who had signed up for the APRM process – to whom the APRM eminent persons and secretariat report – ready to urge remedies for poor performance, or would their own glass houses discourage the throwing of stones?



1 Comment

  1. The violence in Kenya hasn’t ended, it has only paused, waiting for another time to erupt with much bigger force. The surprising thing is that it took this long to happen, if Kenya were another African country, things would have melted down at least 10 years ago. This signs have been there but the political leadership has been glossing over it. In some cases, they used Kenya’s problems to cause even more divisions especially on ethnic lines. Greed, corruption, impunity and elitism are the things that will destroy Kenya. All the politicians from all the parties are to blame.

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