Kenya starts to digest the result of a bitterly contested election
By Abdi Latif Dahir, Declan Walsh and Matthew Mpoke Bigg
After a tumultuous political day in Kenya, the country Tuesday began to come to terms with the reality of a new president-elect, William Ruto; a sharply divided electorate; and a decision by the losing candidate to reject the results, guaranteeing a period of uncertainty for a nation pivotal for East Africa’s economic and political stability.
Ruto, who is currently the vice president, moved quickly Monday in a speech and news conference to cement his new status after being declared the winner of last week’s election with 50.49% of the vote. He called for unity and said that there was “no room for vengeance” after a hard-fought campaign. He was greeted Tuesday with a string of flattering newspaper headlines in Kenya.
In a choreographed sequence of announcements, he also offered an olive branch to supporters of his main opponent, Raila Odinga, a former prime minister and opposition leader who had been thwarted four previous times in his attempts to win the presidency.
On Tuesday, however, Odinga said the result should be annulled on the grounds that due process had not been followed during the tallying of votes. At a news conference, in which he thanked his supporters for preserving the peace, he said he would pursue the dispute in the courts.
“What we saw yesterday was a travesty and a blatant disregard of the constitution and the laws of Kenya,” Odinga said.
But two major factors served to keep the electorate on edge. The first was a worrying split in the electoral commission, four of whose seven members said Monday that they could not accept the outcome given the opaque nature of the vote counting. Their statement was made even before Ruto was pronounced the winner and is likely to feature in any court challenge to the election result.
The second is Odinga’s silence. He is scheduled to hold a news conference later Tuesday, but one of his leading aides described the election headquarters Monday as a “crime scene.”
Previous elections in Kenya, a country whose democracy is closely watched across Africa and farther afield, have led to orchestrated violence.
After a 2007 election, at least 1,200 people were killed and about 600,000 others were forced to flee their homes. This time, religious and civic leaders, as well as much of the political class and the security forces, have emphasized the importance of accepting results and resolving disputes through the courts.
On Tuesday morning, the electoral commission formally declared Ruto president-elect in a special edition of the government’s Kenya Gazette, in a move apparently intended to underscore the legality of the results announced a day earlier.
Many supporters of Odinga view Ruto and his appeal to Kenya, a country Ruto calls a “hustler nation,” with extreme suspicion. And for voters in western Kenya, an ethnic stronghold for Odinga where many people say that they have been excluded from presidential power since independence, the announcement Monday of Ruto’s win stung.
In towns along the eastern edge of Kisumu County in western Kenya, the soot of burned tires, as well as stones and sticks, were strewn across the streets Tuesday, evidence of protests the night before. Large rocks and boulders could also be seen along a major highway that runs from Kisumu, a city on the shore of Lake Victoria, to Busia, which is near the border with Uganda.
Protesters on that highway clashed with the police overnight, according to witnesses and young men crowded at bus stops and shops Tuesday in anticipation of Odinga’s speech. There were no other reports of clashes, although an election officer in Embakasi, an area east of the capital, Nairobi, was found dead after going missing, newspapers reported Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether his death was linked to the voting.
Key to any challenge to the result will be any evidence that the voting or the count was significantly flawed. Odinga challenged the result of the 2017 election, which he lost to Uhuru Kenyatta, in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the election should be annulled and held anew. Three months later, Kenyatta won again, although Odinga had asked his supporters to boycott the vote. In a move that spoke to the shifting alliances that are a hallmark of Kenya’s politics, Kenyatta supported Odinga this time around.
A statement Tuesday by the respected Election Observation Group, which comprises civic and faith-based groups, could serve to make Odinga’s task more difficult. The group did its own analysis of the published results and concluded that they were broadly accurate.
The detailed statement concluded that the results the group had seen were “consistent” with those given by the electoral commission.