International Election Observers in Kenya’s 2017 Elections: Impartial or Partisan

Recently, questions have emerged concerning the professionalism and impartiality
of election observers. In Kenya, concerns arose after the August 2017 elections when
the Supreme Court of Kenya nullified Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, despite observers
suggesting that the elections were credible. Proceeding from this foundation, this
paper examines the conduct of election observers in the elections and the claim that
their behaviour was equivalent to being impartial. The data that informed the study
was collected through interviews and analysis of previous research. The findings
of this research demonstrate that election observation cannot be detached from the
social, political and security context in which it takes place and the methodologies
used by observers also influence their findings. Importantly, the technological
expertise of observer missions is becoming increasingly important as states turn
to more sophisticated electoral technology. In addition, the study reveals that
elections have become a polarising factor in Kenya due to the rise of ethnic politics
and prevalence of dysfunctional institutions. The bitter power struggles that unfold
during elections have tended to implicate international observers as each political
contender expects observers to support their position. We conclude that allegations
of impartiality levelled against the observers are intended to serve the political
goals of those who raise them. Our findings suggest three circumstances under
which observers may be accused of bias. The first is when politicians feel that the
odds are stacked against their chances of clinching victory in elections. Secondly,
accusations of bias may be advanced as a campaign tool to whip up public sympathy
or consolidate support. Thirdly, claims of bias may be used by the opposition to
justify post-election protests intended to force a repeat poll or extract a political
deal to cater for its interests.

File Type: pdf
Categories: Journal of African Elections
journal of african elections vol17 number 1 transparent democratic governance in africa