Observers under fire for ‘rubber stamping’ Kenya vote

NAIROBI (AFP) – Accused of glossing over flaws in Kenya’s election which later caused the result to be overturned, international observers are under a harsh spotlight ahead of a re-run next month.

The August 8 poll, which saw President Uhuru Kenyatta re-elected, was annulled by Kenya’s Supreme Court earlier this month on grounds of “irregularities and illegalities”, notably in the transmission of election results.

The shock decision put foreign observers in a particularly difficult position, accused by Kenya’s opposition and many media outlets of being too quick to declare the elections were “free and fair” in a preference for the status quo over democracy.

But observers themselves – and some analysts – told AFP this characterisation was unfair, saying enthusiastic praise for part of the electoral process was mistaken for endorsement of the whole.

Supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta hold a placard indicating they will not accept a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition, at an election rally in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. – AP

And they point to the media, as well as Kenya’s polarised public and combative opposition, for over-simplifying and misinterpreting their messages.

In a continent where allegations of vote tampering and disputed results have repeatedly undermined the electoral process, monitors can play an important role in bolstering confidence.

The debate has intensified as Kenyatta and his main rival Raila Odinga step up campaigning for the re-run which will take place on October 17.