UN role mulled after Kenya
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
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.