Just one year of chaos: The case for simultaneous polls

Thursday March 23 2017


By Charles Onyango-Obbo

In 2007, partly to prevent unfair business practices, and leaks of regionally agreed policies, the East African Community states agreed to read their budgets at the same time.

This year Kenya is reading its budget earlier, and for good reason. In June, it will be in the throes of the campaigns for the August general election, and most critical business will have long closed.
Rwanda too will going to the polls in August.

It’s the first time in a very long period that two East African countries have voted days apart in the same month. Rwandans will do their thing on August 4, and Kenyans on August 8 – if nothing changes. Election dates in Kenya have a funny way of shifting.

This has happened by accident, but perhaps the EAC countries should take inspiration and deal with our elections the way they have tried to do with the budgets – hold them all in the same month.
There are reasons why that would be problematic, though, and the main one is that it is a bad way to manage regional election risk.

Especially in Uganda and Kenya, elections tend to be viciously fought and the fury of the politicians can be scary – often you have violence – so there is a real possibility that voting around the same time could leave the whole region in flames.

You need to have a country that is not in election convulsions so that, as happened with Kenya’s 2007/8 post-election violence, Tanzania could mediate between the warring factions.
Also, the faint of heart, expatriates, and such folks usually flee and become temporary election exiles in neighbouring countries. Early last year, Nairobi’s roads had many Ugandan registered cars of such exiles who had left, fearing election mayhem.

Past elections
In 2013, you couldn’t spit in the eastern Uganda industrial town of Jinja without it landing on a Kenyan. They took over the place.

However, for businesses and other organisations that work regionally, East African elections are a nightmare. Because little happens and there is often a lot of uncertainty, such companies had to endure a slow 2015 in Tanzania. The same thing would have happened in Uganda, in addition to losing half of 2016 because the president is only sworn in May; and immediately they would have to go into holding mode in Kenya. That’s effectively three years lost.

The Rwandese run a tight ship, so their elections don’t cause the same palpitations that they do in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

However, if we held all elections in the same month, and even allowing that hell would break loose, collectively the region would lose only one year, instead of three.

After all, times have changed. East African countries are no longer able to help restore sanity among themselves, otherwise they would have sorted out Burundi and South Sudan long ago.

It’s therefore probably less important today for Tanzania to be peaceful, so it can mediate if election violence breaks out in Kenya or Pierre Nkurunziza goes rogue in Burundi.

Wasn’t it Machiavelli who said that; “Cruel acts, though evil, may be justified when they are done all at once…” ?

Simultaneous elections may just be what the doctor ordered for the East African economy.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]