After a tumultuous political day in Kenya, the country on Tuesday began to come to terms with the reality of a new president-elect, William Ruto, a sharply divided electorate and uncertainty over how the election’s apparent loser would react to defeat in a nation pivotal for the economy and stability of East Africa.
Ruto, who is currently the vice president, moved quickly on Monday in a speech and news conference to cement his new status after being declared the winner of last Tuesday’s election with 50.49 per cent of the vote. He called for unity and said that there was “no room for vengeance” after a hard-fought campaign. He was greeted on 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.
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 on 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 held a news conference later on Tuesday 24 hours after the results were announced and accused the elections body of being involved in electoral fraud. Accompanied by his running mate and former vice president Kalonzo Musyoka, Odinga announced he would to the Supreme Court – for the third time in a row – to challenge the outcome.
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 1,133 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 emphasised the importance of accepting results and resolving disputes through the courts.
“We are waiting for Baba to speak,” said Wycliffe Oburu, a 23-year-old supporter of Odinga, using the name by which the veteran opposition leader is often called. “We cannot lose this election.”
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 on Monday of Ruto 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 on 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 on Tuesday in anticipation of Odinga’s speech. There were no other reports of clashes, though an election officer in Embakasi, an area east of the capital, Nairobi, was found dead after going missing, newspapers reported on 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, though 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 on 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.
- A Tell / New York Times report