New Internationalist

A sigh of relief post-Kenya election

Odingo supporters demonstrate
Odinga supporters are disbelieving at the election result as they demonstrate in Nairobi Henry Owino

Kenya has finally redeemed its image from the tarnishing it experienced during the 2007 post-general election violence. Kenyans have largely accepted the results of the latest poll on 4 March and maintained the peace, regardless of which side of the party political divide they stand on.

The losers remained peaceful, as winners celebrated their victory in colourful pomp. Supporters of winning presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta roused fellow Kenyans from their sleep at 1am on Saturday morning with blaring sounds of vuvuzelas (plastic blow horns) and whistles. People young and old, men and women, celebrated with dance and songs.

In most parts of the country, citizens were calm. Businesses that had been closed for a week due to a fear of violence opened up their doors again. There was a patient, five-day wait for the results.

Peace prevailed, although not without anxiety, and Kenyans have been praised for demonstrating democratic maturity. Indeed, several African leaders – including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who helped broker a deal after the 2007/08 post-election violence – have congratulated them.

Were Kenya still using its old constitution, President-elect Kenyatta could have been sworn in by now. However, the new constitution gives a breathing space of 14 days for any complainants to file a petition to the Court of Law to challenge the results.

Previously, the candidate with the highest number of votes was declared president. But now, a candidate is required to pass a 50 per cent plus one vote threshold. In addition, he or she is required to win 25 per cent of the vote in the majority of Kenya’s 47 counties.

In this election, Kenyatta garnered 6,173,433 votes against his closet opponent Odinga who received 5,340,546 votes (out of 12,338,667 million votes cast). Odinga is disputing the declaration of Kenyatta as president-elect.

He claims there was massive tampering of the results and that some figures used in the tallying of votes were fictitious, claiming a ‘failure of virtually every instrument the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had deployed for the election: the poll books, the servers, the telephonic transmission, the biometric voter registration (BVR) kit. They all failed, despite the billions spent on acquiring them.’

Odinga has prepared a team of 10 judges for the petition case, which must be resolved within 14 days. Should the court rule in his favour, there will be a run-off vote within 30 days.

Kenyatta has called upon his competitors to support him and to work together for the benefit of all Kenyans. He said his government would act without fear or favour for the benefit of all citizens, regardless of their party affiliations.

But the elephant in the room is that the president-elect is a man wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. Kenyatta, of the Kikuyu ethnic group, has been accused of funding retaliatory attacks on the Kalenjin and Luo communities in 2007/08. His running mate William Ruto (now deputy president-elect) is facing the same charges. The two were in different political camps at that time; they only joined forces in 2010, during the referendum for the new constitution.

Opinion is divided as to how the president-elect will juggle things between State House and the ICC at The Hague. Already, Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor at the ICC, has summoned Ruto to appear for trial on 28 March; Kenyatta will appear on 9 July. In his acceptance speech, Kenyatta indicated that he would co-operate with international institutions and organizations, which could be interpreted to mean that he will continue his co-operation with the ICC.

Constitutional experts and lawyers, however, said that several restrictions could be slapped on Kenya by the international community. Professor Joel Barkan of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said that Kenya may become diplomatically isolated, particularly by the US, Britain and the rest of the European Union. He added that this isolation will affect financial aid and trade, with potentially severe economic consequences.

‘Kenya will not be subject to broad economic sanctions like Iran over its nuclear programme, but there are very likely to be travel bans and other targeted sanctions on the inductees, their families and their assets. It will result in a very awkward relationship,’ Barkan said, predicting that Kenyatta would be forced to turn to the East for business deals and international help, as the government has been doing under the outgoing Kibaki presidency.

For the moment, people have gone back to their daily tasks, businesses have picked up and the price of commodities has returned to normal. Despite the ongoing issue of the ICC cases and the possibility of a run-off, with the 4 March general election Kenyans have made a big step forward in maintaining peace, love and unity.

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