COLUMN | Of Kenya, Zimbabwe, and the ‘culture’ of the election dispute

Kenya's Supreme Court rejected Raila Odinga's appeal against William Ruto's win Raila Odinga (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

By Takura Zhangazha

I have been keenly following the Kenyan 2022 election court case, mainly because as a Zimbabwean I must reflect on electoral result disputes as they occur in my own country.  

As it turns out, the Supreme Court of Kenya decided that William Ruto is the duly elected president of Kenya, dismissing Raila Odinga’s challenge.

The reasons that the court gave are varied on the nine points that they gave. What is important is the fact of the disputation of presidential election results, both as a general expectation and as a general electoral habit. This is a development that remains completely understandable.

Even when presented before a court of law, the mathematics or legal argumentation appears to fall short of expected requirements.

What is apparent is the fact that all elections in Africa, South of the Sahara, are expected to be disputed, or at least end up at one constitutional court or the other. 

This is the recent case in Kenya and Angola, as will be the case in Zimbabwe, Botswana or Nigeria when they hold their next elections. 

The culture of disputation

What remains in vogue is the fact of the disputability of election results, and how such disputes will always end up being presented to a Supreme or Constitutional Court. In most insistences, this becomes an international relations issue, almost as a source of habit. This is actually the expectation after every other five-year election period, meaning that no matter the assumptions of ‘electoral reforms’, there will always be disputation of results, even if the same assumptions are made in Global North countries. 

What is apparent is the fact of an emerging culture that we should and can dispute electoral results, for the sake of it. It is almost an electoral campaign that so long as we run for political office, we should be able to dispute electoral results. In other words, we cannot lose an election, especially if we have the sympathy of the Global North and its foreign policy intentions.

In this what emerges is the assumption of what is an election. Who actually votes, and for whom? Even if the candidate is as straightforward as can be, we have to realise that it reflects more the interests of those that prefer that particular candidate than they would an opposing one.

Malawi’s 2019 election dispute was settled in court (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

But this may not matter as much. The essence of electoral campaigns in contemporary Africa is a specific populism. It is one that manages materialist desire and legality of the same, and this is a complicated point.  

“We are what we are not. That is the paradox of fiction”.  I am quoting here from Dambudzo Marechera from his novella The House of Hunger.

The fact of disputation of elections is one that means we are what we are not. 

Our anticipation is that we will always have victory. Yet victory always eludes us, as though it was a curse.

Our abstract struggles as liberatory beings are those that tend to belong to the immediate. The struggles for the organic understanding of the future of the people of Zimbabwe is not abstract. It is immediate. And we know that those that fought the war of liberation understand this. If they do not, then we have to have a conversation about the reality of what it meant to actually fight the oppressor in the most trying of circumstances. 

It is apparent that the liberation struggle was complicated. It remains a historical reality that we can never wish away, even if we were in the political opposition. The importance of the Zimbabwean being is that we do not dispute the war of liberation. We also do not argue with the fact of desire for electoral change, nor the reality that democracy has mutated to mean many things to many people. Some are in power. Others are close to power. 

What we do know is that democracy represents a political culture that is essentially about posterity. It is not about the immediate, and more about the future. Where we embrace it for posterity, we will be alright.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)