RB urges African leaders to put public good before personal interests

Former president Rupiah Banda has urged African leaders to consider public good over personal interests if the continent’s democracy is to flourish.

And the former Zambian head of State has been described as a living embodiment of democracy who has shown the continent that there is life after leaving political office.

Delivering a keynote address at a two-day conference titled Elections March 2013: Imminent debates in the event of a Presidential run-off’, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nairobi today, the fourth Zambian president said it was important to ensure that democratic systems were respected.

He told a packed conference that included delegates from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia and Senegal that African democracy was taking root and urged the media to highlight electoral success with the same vigour that they reported on failed elections.

The former President also urged young Africans to strive towards creating an environment in which leaders and their followers would not have to worry about retribution if they lost elections to their competitors.

Earlier, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Ahmed Hassan and Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) Kenya country director Felix Odhiambo described President Banda as a true democrat who was magnanimous enough to concede defeat in the 2008 Presidential elections, thereby ensuring that Zambia remained a peaceful country.

“The message from President Banda is very pertinent as we go towards elections. Indeed, public good overrides other factors. President Banda understands the dynamics of free and fair elections. We are very grateful for the message you have brought to Kenya,” Mr Hassan said.

And Swedish Ambassador to Kenya Johan Borgstam said he hoped the Kenyan people would learn from Banda’s experience and prepare well for the Presidential and Parliamentary elections set for 4th March, 2013.

The former president later addressed a Press conference where he answered several questions regarding what compelled him to accept the results of the 2008 elections and what advice he had for Kenyan politicians ahead of the March elections.

The two-day conference has been organised by the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa in partnership with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Kenyan Judiciary and the Kenyatta University School of Law.

His Excellency the Swedish Ambassador to Kenya,
Chairman, Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission,
The Vice Chancellor, Kenyatta University,
Honourable Members of Parliament present,
Political party leaders,
Civil society leaders,
Distinguished Invited guests,
Members of the Press present and
Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning.

It’s such an honor to be here with you today during this important period of Kenya’s democratic history. I would like to also extend my warm gratitude to the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission, the Judiciary Working Committee on Election Preparations, Kenyatta University and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa and their funding partners, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA Kenya) and the United Nations Development Fund for the invitation to attend and deliver the keynote address at this conference.

Special thanks to all the distinguished participants who have found time to be with us at this important conference today.

I have always enjoyed visiting Kenya. I am deeply impressed by her welcoming people, her natural wonders, and the admirable achievements of Kenyan society.

Although today I am here as a private citizen, not long ago I took part in deepening relations with both leadership and opposition figures when I served as President of Zambia, and I must say that I have found highly commendable qualities among Kenya’s people from all across the political, economic and social spectrum.

Like many democracies in Africa, Kenya’s success is the fruit of both hard work and perseverance in the face of tragedy. Kenya has shown the limitless potential of her people through unity, but unfortunately has also experienced the violent realities of social division.

As you head to the polls on the 4th March 2013, we all hope and pray for a peaceful, orderly, free and fair exercise. If there is one message that I hope you may take away from my words today, it is that each and every citizen bears an important responsibility in a democracy– it is the responsibility of all of us to put the public good above ones private interest.

What is the public good, and how do we know when it diverges from the private interests of leadership? In my view, the public good is not an election victory, but rather the strength of the democratic system itself.

The public good is the delivery of education, health, shelter, safety, and opportunities to the people. The public good must be based on the idea that rights are guaranteed, that laws are upheld, and that equality prevails over privilege.

It should not be subject to rationalization, it should stand as a quality that is above partisan politics and something that all of us, together, should be vocally striving toward as fellow men and women.

This includes ensuring that voters and communities have a good understanding of electoral rules which can do much for the acceptance of results – especially when those results are different from what they voted for or desired.

I believe African democracy has taken root, and its progress is unstoppable. In the past ten years, more countries in our region have held successful elections than at any point in history. We have discovered systems of governance that are able to keep the army in the barracks, settle disputes without bloodshed or prisoners, and peacefully transfer power between presidents, parties, and social movements.

There have been challenges just as there has been success. In the recent past, electoral challenges have been experienced in Ivory Coast, Guinea Bissau, Mali and Kenya. Last year was a year of elections in the continent. A total of 29 different kinds of elections were held in the continent. Significant progress was made towards consolidating democracies in the countries that held their elections last year.

Out of the 29 elections held, only 1, in Guinea Bissau was the electoral process interrupted. Successful elections respecting the will of the people were held in Senegal, Lesotho, Sierra Leone (where I led an observation mission) Ghana, Libya, Egypt to name just but a few. Africa is progressing, and time has come for the international media and African media to give prominent coverage to successful elections in the continent just like they do to those that face challenges.

The media should return positive coverage to successful elections just as prominently as they do failed elections.

The work of enhancing and consolidating democracy in the continent is vested in all of us. We must contribute in our little way towards this quest. In that regard, I wish to recognize here, EISA for the commendable job it has done in furtherance of this quest.

From supporting the regional economic communities to the African Union on electoral processes all over the continent is indeed admirable to say the least. EISA has been a true child and champion of the continent in promoting democratic free and fair elections.

The results of concerted efforts by several institutions and governments in consolidating democracy have been overwhelmingly positive.

The political stability afforded by democracy has enabled us to access and mobilize resources, with more than half of the continent’s GDP growth since 2002 coming not from oil or mining, but rather the service sector.

That though, does not mean that African democracy is a foregone conclusion. There are millions of economically vulnerable people who have yet to see the benefit, and, in some cases, have even been victimized by failures of governance.

Others see no point in elections, especially when there are examples of “benevolent dictatorships” in which you trade some freedoms in exchange for growth. The frustrations of electoral fraud, corruption, and mis-governance have eroded public trust in democratic institutions in many cases, which I think is a great pity.

Of course democracy doesn’t solve everything, but what it does provide is a set of rules and expectations that allow societies to peacefully administer or resolve political differences and build representative collective will aimed at the public good.

The upcoming elections here in Kenya will be the first to be held under the 2010 Constitution, featuring the 50-plus-1 clause under Article 138, meaning that in order to win in a presidential election, a candidate must obtain 50% plus one of the total vote, while also obtaining at least 25% of the votes cast in a majority of the 47counties .

The law further provides for runoff elections if these thresholds are not reached by any of the candidates.
Article 138 (4) (b) constitution

In a landslide election, there usually is not much dispute or rejection of results if the popular will was genuine. However, in closely contested elections, which can be expected in Kenya, there are risks that passions can run out of control while desperation may lead some groups to mobilise destructive violence in an effort to seize power.

Under the winner-take-all system, there is tremendous pressure on parties to compete, however the implementation of run-off elections will hopefully address some of these negative tendencies through the formation of coalitions.

All these alliances may begin as political convenience, but in order to truly consolidate Kenyan democracy, we must urge great cooperation and institutionalization among these coalitions and alliances – unity should be something that lasts beyond Election Day.

Overall, the candidates must remember that they are presenting themselves for public service, and that their obligation is to uphold the public good over private interests

My experience in the last Zambian presidential elections brought forward a number of these challenges. In an election contested by three major parties and seven smaller parties, our party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, secured the votes of 35% of the country, and lost by a narrow margin of around 180,000 votes in a hard-fought contest.

The campaign featured all the hallmarks of a tough contest. There were moments of great intensity, unbridled passions among supporters of both parties, and urgent concerns among incumbent officials in my government over what would happen to them if the other party were to come into power.

As the results were being counted, there were clearly two options before me – to stand down and endorse the victory of my opponent, or to hang on and dispute the results in court. I chose the former, because the stakes were simply too high, and although I believed I could best serve the people of Zambia, the restoration of unity, stability, and democratic integrity were in the public’s interest.

I felt a bigger responsibility to my country to uphold Zambia’s record of peace, stability and democracy, even when in doing so I was required to walk away from a very closely fought election result.

It was more important to me, to preserve the peace and avoid unrest in my country. I can only hope that this decision plays a role in changing the expectations we hold toward incumbent presidents in elections across Africa.

My goal from the beginning of my career in public service was to leave Zambia more united as nation than when I started, and it is my hope that history will show that we were successful.

As Kenya moves forward with the elections in March 2013, many people will be looking up to you as an example. Remember to exercise patience and compassion toward your fellow citizens, and reject violence and tribalism in all its forms.

This is an election in which it is important for the system to win, more than any single candidate. It is your turn to show the world how far we have come as continent.

And please don’t let us down. When Kenya succeeds, Africa succeeds. The whole continent is watching Kenya to learn from your experiences and to make sure the country turns a positive page on electoral violence.

The Kenyan elections will be the first major elections to be held in the continent the year 2013. The entire continent is looking up to you. We pray that Kenya sets a positive example to all the countries conducting their elections this year and in the near future.

Thank you kindly again for the opportunity to speak here today. It has been a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity, and I look forward to continuing these important debates with you all in the future.

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