After re-run, Kenyan opposition vows resistance

Wangui Kimari reports on the twists and turns of this year’s election season and asks if Kenyan citizens might be beginning to build a politics beyond the machinations of power

Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan president, during the inauguration of the newly elected Somalian president earlier this year.
Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenyan president, during the inauguration of the newly elected Somalian president earlier this year. Photo: Ilyas Ahmed / AMISOM Photo, Public Domain

That soap-opera intrigues are part of the Kenyan electoral process is indisputable.

As a brief snapshot for those who are new to these machinations: the political duo who won the 2013 elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy President William Ruto, were previously political enemies in different parties who joined forces when they were both indictees at the International Criminal Court (ICC), charged with crimes against humanity over the 1200 deaths in the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Four years later in August 2017, this same coupling ‘won’ the elections against the opposition coalition party, National Super Alliance (NASA), commandeered by political veteran Raila Odinga. Once again in 2017, as in 2013, the son of the first president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, was in a contest with the son of the first Vice President of Kenya, Raila Odinga.

Though the challengers remain the same, the 2017 election course has been undoubtedly more dramatic: it has featured the yet to be investigated torture and assassination of Chris Msando, IT head of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC); the harassment and deportation of two foreign analysts who were working with NASA; the police killings of dozens of citizens in ‘opposition strongholds,’ as well as widespread questions (still, for the most part, unanswered) about the ways in which votes were tallied and fixed to produce what opposition supporters term a ‘computer generated president’.

In a landmark decision on 1 September, stunning many at home and abroad, the results from the August 2017 elections were declared ‘null and void’ by a surprisingly emboldened Supreme Court, who subsequently ordered the electoral commission to arrange new elections within 60 days. Interestingly, this court verdict contradicted the reports offered by foreign electoral observers who had declared the election process ‘credible’, and had encouraged a disgruntled opposition to move on.

Following the petition by the opposition and the unexpected decision of the Supreme Court, many Kenyans wondered what it was that these election observers actually came to observe.

Notwithstanding its importance and the hope this landmark decision, with all it means in the fight for free and fair elections, has signalled for many locally and across the continent, it has inevitably upped the stakes in an increasingly charged environment. Soon after the Supreme Court announcement, the president issued threats against its judges. Following this, a number of civil society organizations that are said to have supported and ‘influenced’ the so-called ‘judicial coup’ of the Supreme Court were threatened with deregistration.

Peaceful protests have now been banned despite Article 37 of the 2010 constitution which guarantees the right to peaceful assembly. What’s more, in the last week a senior IEBC commissioner, Roselyn Akombe, fled the country and resigned citing fears for her personal safety as well as her lack of confidence that the electoral commission, facing undue pressure from the government, can facilitate a ballot process that will ‘meet the basic expectations of a credible election.’

Kenyans who have survived many months of a nurses strike, large-scale drought, high food prices, malaria, closed universities and a 50 per cent GDP debt rate now face a heightened period of uncertainty. The opposition party leader, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the ballot, arguing that the IEBC cannot organize free and fair elections. He says that from today, his opposition party will become the NASA resistance movement, defying all instructions from the government.

But while the election violence and the Supreme Court decision have become front page news here and elsewhere, they have obscured the steadfast work of citizens to survive and improve conditions in their daily lives.

These are everyday Kenyans who mobilize informally in poor urban communities to teach citizens about their voting rights, and those who protest police violence against particular ethnic communities.

Similarly under-reported are the significant numbers of youth who are voting against the gerontocratic and ethnic leadership habitually supported by their parents – instead getting involved in vibrant alternative politics in their communities. Bunge La Mwananchi, the people’s parliament, remains an important reference for social movement politics that though subject to widespread surveillance and oppression continues to be a space seeking to nurture new leaders. And the newly formed Ukweli (Truth) Party – while seeking to be part of the formal political space – is mobilizing young activists and artists who are reshaping their communities and the political agendas discussed by the nation.

What will happen now remains unknown. But while these steps are not a silver bullet that will cure the everyday class and ethnic inequalities that plague the country, they remain an important foundation for the country’s future.

Thumbnail image: Kenyatta is sworn in as president after the 2013 elections. Kiprutokelvin, Creative Commons, BY-SA 3.0