Monday, May 22, 2017

Media’s role is crucial to free and fair elections in any democracy

The news media is usually one of first casualties of bungled or contested elections. From the recent US elections, the UK’s Brexit vote to Zambia’s controversial 2016 presidential elections, the mainstream news media bore the brunt of much of the criticism that followed.

 In Africa, biased media coverage, most often in favour of incumbent presidents, is one of the reasons voters have little faith in the legitimacy of election outcomes. In South Africa for example, the public broadcaster routinely comes under intense criticism at election time for being a propaganda outlet for the ruling African National Congress.

Kenya’s state broadcaster has often shed its public mandate to become the governing party’s mouthpiece during general elections. In countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia, public broadcasters openly canvas for incumbent governments during elections.

Media as independent arbiter
Over the last few years, the nature of political campaigns in Africa has changed significantly. Politicians and political parties are now actively shaping their public profiles. They are engaging powerful PR agencies and even starting their own media organisations to market themselves.
In Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta’s governing Jubilee Party has engaged the services of British PR firm BTP Advisors, as well as the data mining company Cambridge Analytica (CA). CA played a key role in Donald Trump’s win in the US presidential elections, and in the UK’s Brexit vote through aggressive data driven campaigning.

This changing political landscape has complicated the media’s role in the coverage of elections. But there’s still an expectation that the mainstream news media should play the role of impartial arbiter. They are expected to provide an open platform for broader public deliberation particularly at election time.

It’s this expectation that informs criticism when the media fails to fulfil this important mandate. Indeed, while digital technologies such as social media have now been widely adopted in Africa, millions remain unconnected to the Internet. This means that that these new platforms are inaccessible to the masses.

Traditional media - particularly radio - therefore remain an important platform for public engagement. At election time, these kinds of legacy media formats are critical in enabling the public to make informed choices. Elections in Africa are fiercely fought because the state is seen as a resource. 

Winning elections makes accessing the state possible, usually to the exclusion of those who lose. Because the stakes are so high, when people lose faith in the credibility of an election some resort to violence. This was the case in Kenya following the disputed 2007-2008 elections. This led to post-election violence. Over 1000 people lost their lives, 600,000 were displaced and property worth millions of Kenyan shillings was destroyed.

The peace narrative
This August, Kenya goes to the polls again in what’s expected to be another bruising political context. For the country’s news media, the coverage of these elections will be extremely challenging.
The last elections held in 2013 were largely peaceful even if the outcome of the presidential tally was disputed. The peaceful elections, which were fought with as much passion as the disputed 2007 poll, didn’t happen that way by accident. The Kenyan media adopted a new approach in 2013 after having been accused of contributing to the violence that engulfed the country in the aftermath of the 2007 elections.

“Peace” journalism was uniformly adopted by all mainstream media. Controversial stories were not covered. Meanwhile, reference to politicians’ ethnic identities was avoided in media coverage. Ethnicity remains an important characteristic of political competition in Kenya hence the sensitivity to ethnic markers of identity.

But “peace” journalism remains controversial and the Kenyan media was widely criticised for adopting it. Many argue that focusing on peace at the expense of the credibility of the elections, ignoring for example numerous electoral anomalies, was a case of self-censorship. Indeed, renowned writers such as Michaela Wrong likened the Kenyan media to “a zombie army”. She argued that it had “taken up position where Kenya’s feisty media used to be, with local reporters going glaze-eyed through the motions”.

Changing media landscape
Local journalists didn’t agree. They argued that erring on the side of caution was a sacrifice worth making in light of the 2007-2008 post-election violence, when the news media was accused of irresponsible coverage which contributed to it. As the news media decides which approach to adopt in the coverage of the next general election, it must recognise that its role has changed considerably in Africa and around the world. While mainstream media remains an important space for public debate, it can no longer be regarded as an impartial arbiter due to three key changes.

First, the African media has become an active participant in the political process because quite a few outlets are now owned by politicians. In Kenya for example, the current president owns Media Max, a company with diverse media interests including TV, radio and newspapers. Media outlets that are owned by politicians have been known to take sides either covertly or overtly.
While this tradition is part of the political culture in the United States and Europe, such partisanship is still only grudgingly accepted in Africa. Second, elections have become an important source of revenue for the media with wealthy candidates and political parties spending large amounts of money in political advertising. As such, coverage is skewed in favour of those who can afford the high cost of advertising.

In Kenya for example, a staggering 8 billion shillings ($77 million) was spent on radio campaigns alone during the 2013 election cycle. Finally, the number of news content providers has grown exponentially. Mainstream media now has to fight for audiences like never before. This has forced it to ignore some of the most fundamental features of journalism like the verification of stories and strong gate-keeping processes. As political campaigns evolve in Africa, so must media coverage of elections. However, it remains incumbent upon the press to act responsibly and in the interest of democracy.

The writer is Senior Lecturer in Journalism, University of Central Lancashire. The article was originally published on The Conversation.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

‘Credibility of Election Will Be Determined By Implementation of Code of Conduct’


Monrovia - The Chairman of the opposition Coalition for Democratic (CDC) Nathaniel McGill is calling for the implementation of the Code of Conduct, noting that doing so will determine the credibility of the 2017 presidential and legislative election.

McGill in a news symposium Wednesday said as a party that have faith in the rule of law, they will abide by whatever law that is pertaining to the elections.

“With reference to the Code of Conduct, our opinion is that the law should be deal with the Code of Conduct.

“If it is not dealt with in a fair and transparent manner, it could endanger the credibility of the elections before it even starts.”

“Anyone who is trying to give a different meaning to the law, that person is trying to undermine the electoral process and ensure that there is a crisis.”

Since the Supreme Court ruled on the Code of Conduct, politicians who believe they have been affected by article 5.1 of that law have issued disclaimers of not been affected by the law while others have pointed fingers specifically naming some major actor whom they believe are affected by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In the case of Mr. Karnwea, he was named one month after joining the Liberty Party as vice standard bearer of the opposition LP two days after he resigned from the FDA, a decision many critics of the LP have said, is a complete defiance to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Code of Conduct.

Some of those affected by the Code of Conduct and their supporters are confident of being let off the hook relying on the ambiguous definition of the word “desire” used in Section 5.1 & 5.2 of the Code of Conduct.

During the interview McGill argued that Article 51 of the Liberian Constitution states that there shall be a vice President and shall contest on the same political ticket with the President, so to McGill with this provision the definition for Desire given by many does not hold water or has no legal basis.

He expressed hopefulness that the pending election will be free, fair and transparent even though the CDC had earlier raised some issues with the voter registration process.

“We had some concerns with the voter registration process and we raised it and that is what we have tried to do during these periods of election."

"Our issue is not to accuse anyone of trying to manipulate the process, but to ensure that the process is free fair and credible.

 “There are attempts by some individuals who know they will not win election but want to cause confusion and the CDC will oppose anyone who knows she/he cannot win and wants to cause confusion. We are very prepared to compete with anyone at all fronts,” he stated.





Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kenya is launching the world’s first mobile-only government bond

Kenyan citizens will soon be able to buy government bonds on their cell phones. Kenya’s Treasury said today that the M-Akiba bond, the world’s first mobile-only government bond, would go on sale on Thursday after a delay of almost two years.

Kenya first announced plans for the bond, named after the Kiswahili word akiba or “savings,” in late 2015, as a way to give ordinary Kenyans access to the country’s capital markets. Investors can buy in increments as small as 3,000 shillings (about $30), compared to the minimum of 50,000 shillings individuals had spend to spend previously to buy government bonds.

“This product is for a mama mboga, farmer, employee, hustler or whatever,” the Treasury said in a press release at the time, referring to women that sell vegetables at small market stalls. A month after the announcement, M-Akiba was delayed over clearance issues.
Now, the bond will be offered on M-Pesa, Africa’s biggest mobile money network that got its start in Kenya, as well as other mobile money networks. Investors can buy and sell the bonds on the Nairobi Securities Exchange via their phones. Coupon payments will be paid directly to their phones. Like M-Pesa, both smart phones and basic features phones can be used.

The bond isn’t just about offering encouraging Kenyans to save. The Kenyan government needs a new pool of cheap money to finance large infrastructure projects and an upcoming election. Only 2% of government bonds in Kenya are bought and sold by individual investors.

Last year, the IMF called on Kenya to lower its budget deficit. The country’s financing gap, expanded to 9.6% of gross domestic product last year, compared to 7.2% the year before, according to the World Bank. This budget year, Kenya plans to raise 154 billion shillings ($1.5 billion) in external borrowing.

The case of Kenya: will technology deliver a free and fair election?

Often states fail when there are either perceived or blatant election malpractices. This in turn can lead to prolonged civil unrest.
Numerous cases exist across the continent. But I will use the Kenyan case to illustrate how election processes can be compromised, and then brought back from the brink with the use of technology.
Following the election in 2007 Kenya erupted into two months of unprecedented conflict. People were unhappy with the outcome which saw Mwai Kibaki of the incumbent Party of National Unity being declared the winner ahead of Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement. Many disputed the final tally.
To preempt a similar situation in future elections, a commission led by former South African judge Justice Johann Kriegler was set up. The Kriegler Commission made several critical findings. These included instances of double voter registration, widespread impersonation and ballot stuffing. It concluded that, as a result, it was impossible to know who actually won the election.
The report also made a number of recommendations. The main ones were that technology should be used in future elections to avoid manipulation of the process.
The Kenyan government acted on the recommendations and elections electronic systems had been put in place by the time of the 2013 poll. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. There were system failures which led to another contested outcome. This was finally settled by the Supreme Court.
As Kenya gears up for the next poll in August, questions are being asked about how well prepared the country is this time round. The issue has become a particularly hot topic in the wake of the government’s decision to allow for a backup manual system to kick in if the technology fails again.
This has raised concerns that the government will pre-emptively switch to the manual system raising the possibility that the vote will be rigged.
Types of voter fraud
The Kriegler report found a range of election malpractices. These included:
  • Double voter registration. This occurs when prospective voters register twice in different locations. These voters then manipulate the system by voting twice for the same candidate.
  • Impersonation. This happens when voters whose names are on the register don’t show up to vote but are listed as having voted.
  • Ballot stuffing. This is one of the most blatant election malpractices and involves the placing of pre-marked ballot papers into ballot boxes before voting commences.
A combination of all three led to high voter turnout in the strongholds of the two main candidates, leading to a skewed election result.
The report concluded that Kenya’s manual election system facilitated the malpractices.
The place of technology
The Kriegler report recommended a number of technological fixes to address some of the vulnerabilities inherent in the manual process. These included biometric voter registration, electronic voter identification and a results transmission system.
By 2016, the 2011 Elections Act had been revised to anchor the electronic systems in law.
Kenya now has some of the most advanced election technology in place. This includes a biometric voter registration process which involves capturing biological features such as the fingerprints of prospective voters. This means that at the end of voter registration the election body can electronically audit the records, picking out and deleting duplicates.
Biometric features captured during voter registration are also used on election day to ensure that those voting are indeed those who registered.
This process is known as electronic voter identification and requires that a voter presents their biometrics for validation prior to voting. Voter identification eliminates the ‘ghost-voter’ problem as the electronic voter identification equipment keeps a tally of the registered voters who actually turn up to vote.
It also eliminates the threat of vote manipulation by requiring voters to impress their fingerprints on specialised equipment which highlights inconsistencies between the electronic and manual tallies.
The final piece of technology recommended by Kriegler - the results transmission system - ensures that voting numbers from polling stations are not changed before they reach the tallying centres.
To avoid changes in the figures approved at the polling station, the presiding officer at each station is expected to transmit the numbers electronically through a secure mobile phone.
As such, the numbers are counted electronically in real-time as they stream into the tallying centres.
The results transmission system has the added advantage of preventing fraudsters from delaying the announcement of results so as to fiddle with the numbers to meet the magical 50%+1 threshold.
The way forward
The introduction of these technologies means that Kenya is now in a position to minimise election fraud and to guarantee a credible electoral process.
But concerns remain, particularly around the contentious amendment to allow for a ‘complimentary’ voting system to be put in place in the event of technology failure.
Will Kenya’s 2017 election process revert to pre-2007 status? Only time will tell whether Kenya has indeed become a mature democratic state or whether it will join the league of failed states.



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Friday, March 17, 2017

MPs propose removal of Senate and have governors appointed

 A parliamentary committee has recommended that Senate be abolished. This, the National Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee said, is designed to resolve the lingering concern of over-representation and a ballooning wage bill. The committee said the country cannot afford to maintain a high number of elected leaders at a time when Kenyans are complaining of over-representation and a soaring public expenditure on salaries. The committee has further recommended that governors be appointed instead of elected, a radical move that could attract a backlash from advocates of devolution. The committee said the current system has compromised the work of the Senate in providing a link between the national and county governments, hence the need to re-assess its necessity under the current constitutional dispensation. "On the issue of over-representation, the committee agreed that Kenyans are over-represented in the legislative bodies and recommends abolishing the Senate or strengthening it to carry out work similar to that of the Council of Governors," said the committee in its report tabled in the National Assembly yesterday.



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