Kenya accuses U.S., others of election interference
Kenya | Government closes U.S.–backed voter preparedness project
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/21/16, 11:40 am
The Kenyan government has shut down a U.S.–funded voter education program and the nonprofit in charge of the program. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta last week accused the international community of interfering in the country’s political sphere as the August presidential elections draw nearer.
The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), an American nonprofit that conducts voter registration and education, directs the $20 million Kenya Electoral Assistance Program sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Fazul Mahamed, executive director of Kenya’s NGO Coordination Board, ordered the closure of IFES and the USAID program along with a freeze on all of the operation’s bank accounts. The board said IFES was not registered as a nonprofit and accused its foreign staff of working in the country illegally.
U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec rejected the board’s claims and expressed disappointment over what he called an attempt to discredit the United States’ efforts to ensure credible elections. Godec confirmed IFES registered under Kenya’s Companies Act and its foreign staff had work permits. In a joint statement, Godec and the ambassadors of 10 other countries said their actions in the country only supported Kenyans’ right to vote.
“The Kenyan people alone have the sovereign right to choose their leaders, and we fully respect this right,” the statement said.
With Kenyatta set to run for reelection next year, tensions are rising between the political parties. Kenyatta has accused opposition leader Raila Odinga of collaborating with foreign leaders to end his presidency. A parliament session debating changes to the country’s electoral law ended in a fistfight yesterday. During the country’s independence celebrations last week, Kenyatta accused foreign groups of sending money to the country to influence the election’s outcome.
“This is our country, and no one should ever try to control our choices for their selfish interests,” Kenyatta said.
Kenya’s voter registration will begin in January. Six Kenyan agencies jointly rejected the deregistration of IFES as “ill-founded, misinformed, and arbitrary.” The agencies warned that the move could hinder peaceful elections in the long run and called on the government to end its attack on agencies that promote democracy.
“The use of executive force to influence electoral preparedness jeopardizes the faith and confidence to run the polls in 2017,” the statement said. “Coming one month from the resumption of voter registration, it risks disenfranchising millions of voters.”
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.