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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 26th June 2017

KENYA: Opposition applauds court ruling against right of national counting centre to change local results

Patrick Smith

This week there is some important court reporting. First from Nairobi where the Appeal Court has backed an important ruling on vote counting, to the delight of civil society and the opposition. And then to South Africa's Constitutional Court which has made a landmark ruling on the rights of Parliament to organise a secret ballot. And from Zimbabwe, comes the news that Pastor Evan Mawarire, whose patriotic #ThisFlag campaign won support from millions via the internet, has been arrested again – this time for talking to protesting medical students. On the international diplomacy front, France is at odds with the United States over who pays for a new, regional anti-terror force in West Africa. And in EthiopiaNigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote has to struggle with some home-grown resource nationalism in the Oromo region.

KENYA: Opposition applauds court ruling against right of national counting centre to change local results
In a judgement that could greatly help election monitors, the Court of Appeal ruled on 23 June that results of the presidential election announced in the counties would be final and not subject to change by the national counting centre. In previous elections, the national counting centre in Nairobi had changed tallies submitted by polling stations across in the country, provoking suspicions of foul play.

The court decision comes as concerns grow about the risks of violent clashes around national elections on 8 August as opinion surveys suggest the presidential race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and challenger Raila Odinga is tightening substantially.

Civil society groups had won the first stage of the battle at the High Court in April. But the Independent Electoral and Border Commission (IEBC), which manages the elections, had asked the Appeal Court to reverse the decision.

The three-judge panel declined to do so, arguing that the IEBC's Presiding Officers at polling centres were capable of overseeing the voting, counting, collation and publication of results before these were transmitted to the national counting centre in Nairobi. If the Appeal Court had rejected the High Court's ruling, the main opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) said it would have pulled out of the elections. Now it is quietly celebrating the decision.

Kenya's Appeal Court ruling in favour of official IEBC results being released at constituency and county level parallels a similar ruling by Ghana's High Court ahead of national elections there in December 2016. In Ghana, that ruling allowed the New Patriotic Party to run its own fast and highly efficient vote tabulation system which released accurate results days ahead of the official Electoral Commission. Based on results verified and agreed on by party agents at the polling stations, the NPP's vote tabulation system also operated as a check on vote tampering.

With two digital data experts in each constituency, the NPP was able to release accurate results based on real voter numbers as well as monitor what was happening with the official count. We hear that Kenya's Nasa officials have taken a particular interest in tactics used by the opposition in the Ghana election.

Presiding judge William Ouko at Kenya's Appeal Court said the case for the IEBC's national counting centre to overrule the decisions of its organisation at county and constituency level didn't stand up. "It is hypocritical for the appellant [IEBC] to doubt the competence, proficiency and honesty of its staff."

SOUTH AFRICA: Supreme Court says Parliament's speaker can order secret ballot for confidence vote on Zuma
Parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete faces the dilemma of her career this week following a ruling from the Supreme Coourt which gives her the right to organise a secret ballot for the forthcoming confidence vote on President Jacob Zuma. Mbete has batted away the opportunity once, telling MPs that it wasn't her prerogative to organise a secret ballot in parliament.

Dissident MPs took the case to the Supreme Court. Now they have their answer from Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, with the unanimous support from the rest of the Court. Justice Mogoeng said that MPs should feel free to vote without fear or favour and that Speaker Mbete should consider the interests of the country, above the governing African National Congress.

President Zuma's foes within and outside the ANC hope a secret ballot would embolden dissident MPs on the ANC benches to vote against him. Zuma has survived four no-confidence votes in parliament but the margin of victory has been getting tighter. In last November's no confidence vote, several dissident ANC MPs simply didn't turn up.

Mbete, who has been one of Zuma's closest allies, will be under enormous pressure to turn down the request for a secret ballot on the confidence vote. Zuma has already said a secret ballot wouldn't be fair as it gives the opposition a majority it doesn't have. He knows that it would take just over a fifth of the ANC's 249 MPs to swing the no confidence vote against him.

In South Africa's current political mood, that's a risk he can't afford to take. The question now is whether Mbete herself would be prepared to heed Chief Justice Mogoeng's advice to put country ahead of party. Previous behaviour suggests she won't but South African politics has been throwing up some big surprises recently.

ZIMBABWE: Arrest of Pastor Mawarire sends harsh message ahead of fraught elections next yearIf the authorities in Harare hope that today's arrest of Pastor Evan Mawarire would deter others from protesting against President Robert Mugabe's government, they may have badly miscalculated. Strategists in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front seem to have been rattled by some tentative steps to organising a united front among the opposition parties for next year's elections.

Previous attempts by the government to rein in Mawarire, who abjures any partisan alignment, have simply fired up Zimbabweans, eventually forcing the government to back down.

This time Mawarire was praying with a group of medical students from the University of Zimbabwe who had been protesting about heavy increases in their fees. Their predicament shines a light on the wider crisis in the country. Zimbabwe's 15 universities turn out about 30,000 graduates a year into an economy where the unemployment rate is running at over 90%, according to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

At the very least, Mawarire is likely to get the students on his side, quite apart from the millions of people who have been fruitlessly seeking jobs in the still-shrinking formal economy.

AFRICA/FRANCE/UNITED STATES: Washington and Paris clash over Sahel counter-terror bill
This is the diplomatic sequel to that 'trial of strength' handshake between Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France last month. Now the arm-wrestling is moving to what countries pay for regional security.

Washington wants to cut its funding for United Nations peacekeeping missions, and in its sights is France's plan to boost a five-country African military force in the Sahel. A US refusal to pay its share of the bill at the UN could jeopardise the entire initiative.

It is a top priority for new President Macron. Within days of his election victory in May, he flew to Mali to meet President Ibrahim Keïta, then went to visit French soldiers serving in the current regional anti-terror force.

For now, France is the greatest contributor to that force but Macron's plan is to cut foreign troop numbers and improve training for African counter-terror forces. There is no official figure for the budget for the five-country force but the Mali operations alone, have a budget of over US$900 million.

Britain, currently embroiled in difficult negotiations to leave the European Union, has its own interests. London is one of the biggest foreign contributors to anti-terror operations in Somalia; it makes those resources available as part of an informal agreement under which France takes the lead on security operations in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel.

It may be that Britain could act as a bridge between Paris and Washington on the Sahel force. It will be a difficult negotiation given the Trump administration's determination to cut back its US$7.9 billion a year dues for UN peacekeeping operations.

It also comes when Pentagon officials are quietly warning that the Trump administration's cuts to humanitarian and diplomatic initiatives in Africa could lead to more violence and terror on the ground. That in turn, argue the defence officials, would require still more US military spending to pursue what Washington sees as its national interests.

ETHIOPIA: Dangote could quit Oromia project after imposition of new local content rules
In the latest twist over battles between nationalist African governments and multinational companies, Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote is squaring off against the Oromia government in Ethiopia over demands that his cement manufacturing plant give supply contracts to local entrepreneurs.

Specifically, Oromia's East Shewa Zone administration argues that Dangote's company should buy from pumice, sand and clay mines worked by the region's young people. This follows a spate of protests last year against foreign companies in Oromia. The protestors were also demanding land and political rights.

But for now, Dangote's officials are taking a tough line, arguing that the supply chain order contravenes the terms of its mining licence in Ethiopia. Without an acceptable resolution on the matter, the officials suggest that the Dangote operation would have to close.