Lessons for Kenya from Germany against backdrop of recent polls
Today Germans throughout the world celebrate their National Day, the “Day of German Unity”. It commemorates a historical turning point in the fortunes of the country. A peaceful revolution in Communist-ruled Eastern Germany led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989. Free elections were held in the following year, leading to the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic, as Eastern Germany was called, and the official reunification of the two Germanys on 3rd October, 1990. It was by no means easy to unite both parts of Germany. The political, economic and cultural systems were entirely different. The challenges were enormous, given the fact that East Germans had been isolated for so long and given the huge differences in economic development and living standards. The results of the German federal election on 24th September this year show that there are still divisions today. There are now six political parties in Germany. Forming a stable government is therefore a challenge. Coalitions have been the norm throughout Germany’s post-war history, but the more parties there are, the greater the challenge.
However, there is an established tradition of political responsibility and politicians are ready to put the interests of the country first. Give and take, compromise, and adherence to commitments made are the essence of coalition-building. This has been a major factor in securing stability and economic well-being. Indeed, the majority of the country’s politicians believe in resolving political disputes and developing inclusive policies through constitutional means, through policy-oriented debate and through negotiation. Kenya, too, finds itself in an election year. The stakes appear to be very high. It is my hope that the differences between contestants and other interested parties will be resolved through peaceful debate and a spirit of give and take. It is of fundamental importance that political leaders and their followers continue to refrain from violence and hate-speech. Every citizen has the right to voice his or her opinion. Peaceful public protest is part of that right. It is the State’s duty to protect that right. The annulment of the presidential election and its re-run made the world headlines in a positive manner. The Supreme Court’s decision was praised as a demonstration of the resilience of the country’s democratic institutions and of commitment to the rule of law. The Kenyan people showed patience and confidence as the legal case ran its course. Kenya’s electoral institutions must now prepare for a new presidential poll. Everyone involved has a moral duty to ensure that the process is free, fair, credible, and peaceful and, at the same time, addresses the shortcomings pointed out by the Supreme Court. We have trust in the ability of Kenya and its institutions to do so. Germany together with other international partners will continue to support the IEBC in its important work. The IEBC is the only body that is constitutionally mandated to rerun the presidential election. All political stakeholders should help the IEBC and the Supreme Court to fulfil their roles and respect their independence as provided for by the constitution. The media has an important responsibility too: to separate facts from fake news and to report accurately and fairly on election and other issues. Ultimately, a successful and peaceful poll will require goodwill and flexibility on the part of leaders and citizens alike. Politics in a democracy should never be perceived to be a matter of life or death. Germany’s concern and support for Kenya is rooted in a long-time friendship going back to the country’s independence in 1963. We have promised to assist Kenya in its development efforts in 2017 and 2018 to the tune of 260 million Euros. Part of this will be devoted to working together with our Kenyan counterparts to improve technical and vocational training and to establish a joint East African-German university for applied sciences. Such initiatives are designed to improve job opportunities for young Kenyans. It is important to note that several German and Kenyan private sector companies have volunteered to take part in this undertaking. Close links between enterprises and training centres are at the core of German economic success and the country’s record in keeping youth unemployment low. This dual vocational training system is one that many countries are interested in emulating. We have also been trying to stimulate further German investment in Kenya – with some success, but much more can and should be done. There is goodwill on both sides, as this year’s German-African Business Summit demonstrated. The uncertainties surrounding the Kenyan elections have hampered economic activity. It is therefore of utmost importance that the re-run of the presidential election takes place as scheduled adhering to the highest standards. This will not only enhance Kenya’s political standing in the world. It will also ensure a rapid return to a well-established path to growth and prosperity. (Frasch is the German Ambassador to Kenya)