News 2008


UN role mulled after Kenya election

03. March 2008

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Kofi Annan used all his negotiating skills to work out a power-sharing deal over Kenya's contested presidential election. If the former UN secretary-general hadn't stepped in, African Union and UN officials acknowledge, they wouldn't have known what to do next.

A spokesman for the top opposition leader, Raila Odinga, told The Associated Press the lack of a UN backup plan highlights a need to give nations more and earlier election assistance.

""The United Nations should recognize that elections in countries such as ours are always flash points of potential violence,"" said opposition spokesman Salim Lone, a former UN official. ""Often the rigging begins well before election day, and to show up just before polling starts is quite inadequate.""

Three of the biggest and most difficult elections of the past decade in developing nations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Congo came off successfully with extensive UN support and hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid.

Since the 1990s and the elections that helped to decolonize places like South Africa, Mozambique and Cambodia, the UN largely got out of the election-observing business and focused instead on giving technical assistance to the many nations that request it.

""It's partly because of the size and the cost,"" said Craig Jenness, director of the UN's Electoral Assistance Division, who was among a half-dozen UN staff who were on hand to help Annan for several weeks in Nairobi.

Annan met for the past month almost every day with negotiators for Mwai Kibaki, the president, and Odinga.

On Thursday, Annan's efforts paid off with the announcement that Kibaki and Odinga agreed to share power and try to end the violence that has killed more than 1,000 Kenyans and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes since the Dec. 27 election. With the election close, charges of election-rigging were swapped on both sides.

UN spokeswoman Michele Montas said Ban had no other options ready to turn to in case Annan's efforts had failed. The African Union similarly put its full confidence in Annan to reach an agreement, AU officials said.

Most of the election problems, Jenness said, occurred during the election ""re-tally"" when polling stations filled in forms summarizing the election results. Those forms were forwarded to central stations, which added up the votes and filled out new forms to send to Nairobi.

Both sides agreed it would be too risky and take too long to hold another election or to open all the ballot boxes and do a complete recount of each ballot a process that would have taken two or three months, according to Jenness.

""The question was, can Kenya really wait for that?"" he said.

While some in Odinga's camp wonder if the election crisis might have been averted with more international election help, they also see a bright side to what Annan and others pulled off.

""This outcome has sent a wonderful message across Africa which is that election-rigging will not be able to stand,"" Lone said. ""Prevention is infinitely preferable to trying to fix a damaged ship, and the means must be found where the international community becomes engaged a year before elections in countries where some problems are expected.""

Jenness disagreed, saying no amount of election assistance for Kenya could have addressed its underlying problems, which occurred during the tally process. It's unclear if those would have been prevented by having more longtime observers, he added.

""To me, the question is could the international community have anticipated that at least one side would try to cheat in a close election?"" Jenness said.