April 22, 2013, 5:47 p.m.
Originally posted at IRI.org on April 16, 2013. Paul Fagan, Director of Africa programs at IRI, today testified before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, chaired by Representative Christopher H. Smith (NJ-4) with Representative Karen Bass (CA-37) serving as Ranking Member. In his testimony (PDF), Fagan focused on the challenges Kenya faced in the lead up to the March 2013 national elections, examined the democratization process the country is undergoing and discussed ways in which the United States can continue to foster a strong relationship with its strongest ally in East Africa. In highlighting the progress Kenya has made since the 2007 elections that ended in violent protests, Fagan praised Kenyans for their reform efforts. “Five years on, and Kenyans have emerged from that dark chapter in their nation’s history with a new constitutional and political order and significant steps made toward national reconciliation and healing…Kenya’s political party and election laws have undergone significant reforms since the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution. Another key mark of progress was the establishment of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which was organized as an independent, technical body in charge of managing elections in a non-partisan and transparent manner.” Fagan cautioned that much work remains for Kenya’s political parties to transform themselves into issue-based parties. “While institutional and legal reforms helped push Kenya’s electoral process toward a significant break from the past, there is still much that remains unchanged. For instance, political parties and coalitions remain electoral vehicles based on individual ownership and use ethnicity to rally voters rather than ideology or real platforms.” While overall praising the conduct of the elections, specifically the role the judiciary played, Fagan highlighted short comings in other key electoral institutions – the IEBC, media, civil society and political parties – that need to be addressed to strengthen Kenya’s democratic process. In closing, Fagan acknowledged the difficult position U.S. policy makers face given that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto have been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges that they incited violence immediately following the 2007 elections. However, Fagan praised Kenya’s new constitution and the path it gives Kenyans to move beyond the violence that has marred past elections. “The 2010 Kenyan constitution marked a clear path forward from Kenya’s past electoral violence and strengthened the voice of Kenyans by decentralizing the government and marking the importance of human rights. As those reforms continue to be implemented, Kenya has the ability to lead the way in Africa for key reforms that embolden marginalized groups and give all citizens the ability to freely and openly participate in their government.”