Re-Evaluating International Observation of Kenya's 2017 Elections
(University of Edinburgh)
Robert Macdonald (University of Edinburgh)
Paper short abstract:
This paper re-examines international observation missions at the 2017 Kenyan elections in order to argue that, as a result of the media environment and popular expectations about observers' work, many commentators criticised them for the wrong reasons.
Paper long abstract:
Following the Supreme Court's decision to annul the August 2017 Kenyan elections, international election observation missions were widely criticised on the grounds that they had declared the election 'free and fair'. This paper argues that specific allegations of incompetence and bias fail to acknowledge how international observers' preliminary statements restrained from offering final verdicts or commenting upon the tallying process in which the problems emerged. Rather, due to a combination of the media environment and popular expectations about observers' work, the complexity of their statements was lost as their findings were disseminated. This suggests that a fairer critique of international observers would focus on how they communicate, including when they decide to make their statements. It also shows that both the circulation of information relating to observers and popular perceptions of observation missions are important issues, despite being relatively overlooked by scholars working on election observation.
Election observation in Africa