President Uhuru Kenyatta casts his ballot at Mutomo Primary School polling station in Kiambu County on October 26, 2017, during the presidential election.
By Kevin J. Kelley
Democratic rights are increasingly not respected in Kenya, states a new report on the global status of freedom.
The survey by Washington-based Freedom House, a non-partisan non-governmental organisation, recounts Kenya’s controversial 2017 presidential election process, in which a “court-mandated rerun was marred by a lack of substantive reforms, incidents of political violence and a boycott by the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga.”
“These factors undermined the credibility of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, in which he claimed 98 per cent of the vote amid low turnout,” the Freedom House report said.
The group gives Kenya an aggregate freedom score of 48 out of 100 points — a drop from 51 points in the previous year’s report. That score places Kenya among 58 countries described as “partly free.”
Freedom House also reported a decline in democratic rights in Tanzania, which had a slightly higher aggregate score than Kenya.
Tanzania, with 52 points in the new report and 58 in last year’s survey, is categorised as “partly free.”
“The government of President John Magufuli — who took office in 2015 as a member of the only ruling party the country has ever known — stepped up repression of dissent, detaining opposition politicians, shuttering media outlets, and arresting citizens for posting critical views on social media,” the 2018 survey states.
Uganda saw its ranking improve from “not free” to “partly free,” even though its current score of 37 is significantly lower than either Kenya’s or Tanzania’s.
Freedom House bases its elevated evaluation of Uganda on “the resilience of the media sector and the willingness of journalists, bloggers, and citizens to voice their opinions.”
The report adds, however, that “the political environment remained tightly restricted under the regime of long-ruling president Yoweri Museveni.”
Rwanda is included among the 49 countries rated “not free.” It gets an aggregate score of 23 — a slight drop from the 25 points Rwanda received in last year’s Freedom House report.
The new study does not offer an explanation for Rwanda’s ranking.
Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan also qualify as “not free” on the Freedom House table.
South Sudan is given the second-lowest score — two points — of all 195 countries surveyed by Freedom House. Somalia fares little better, with a score of seven points. Burundi, also riven by internal conflict but not to the same extent as Somalia and South Sudan, gets a score of 19.
Gambia is lauded for having achieved the largest gains in democratic rights in the sub-Saharan region.
With a 21-point gain, Gambia’s performance stands as one of the largest-ever improvements in freedom rankings, the report says.
The country is now described as “partly free” after years of a “not free” designation under the dictatorship of President Yahya Jammeh. He was defeated in a December 2016 election but initially refused to concede to victor Adama Barrow. Mr Jammeh relinquished his grip on power after the West African Ecowas grouping sent troops to Gambia in January 2017.
Freedom House also sees encouraging developments in Angola and Zimbabwe where new leaders replaced longtime incumbents. “But their background in the ruling elite raised doubts about their promises of change,” the report adds.
Democracy is in retreat around the world, not only in Africa, Freedom House notes.
It reports that 2017 marked the 12th consecutive decline in global freedom.
Developments in the United States are partly driving this worldwide backsliding, the report suggests.
“The Obama administration continued to defend democratic ideals in its foreign policy statements, but its actions often fell short, reflecting a reduced estimation of the United States’ ability to influence world events and of the American public’s willingness to back such efforts,” the study says.
“In 2017, however, the Trump administration made explicit — in both words and actions — its intention to cast off principles that have guided US policy and formed the basis for American leadership over the past seven decades.”
The US is still ranked among the freest countries in the world, with an aggregate score of 86 out of 100. That’s down, however, from the 89 points given to the US in last year’s report.
Finland, Norway and Sweden each receive perfect scores of 100 in the new survey.