Kenya on knife edge


Oh, what a month it was in Africa! There were three curious elections in Africa in the month of August. President Paul Kagame overwhelmingly won a third term in Rwanda, while President José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola finally decided to step down after 38 years in power.

Develop me with Tapiwa Gomo

When we thought we were fatigued with being fed narratives of poison, recriminations and denials in the Zanu PF succession drama, including the politics of ice cream, samoosas, lunch packs and some damp squib political rallies, the real deal was unfolding in Kenya. When we thought the Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign in South Africa was getting steamy and bringing in the typical political murkiness that often characterises African politics with the string of liaisons thrown before him, again the medal still went to Kenya.

Why Kenya? The country did the unimaginable in Africa and maybe the rest of the world. The Kenya Supreme Court on September 1 annulled the results of Presidential polls held on August 8, throwing the country into a quagmire of unprecedented proportions. Kenya goes back to the polls on October 31.

Globally, since 1918, there have been 37 cases were national political elections had their results cancelled after they were held, sometimes legally, sometimes following a coup or revolution. It has only been four times that a court has nullified presidential elections and these are Ukraine in 2004, Maldives in 2014, Austria in 2016 and now Kenya in 2017. This is how phenomenal it is for Kenya today. The court has proven that power does not only lie in the hands of the executive, but the judiciary as well. This has always been the biggest weakness to African democracy and Kenya has proven that it is possible.

It also vital to acknowledge how Raila Odinga conducted himself after elections. He did not call for violence, but instead asked for peace and patience, as he pursued the legal route. That paid off in a country so vulnerable to political violence due to tribal fissures that characterise elections.

And again, the court ruling maybe Odinga’s first monumental victory in his political career. It is bigger than winning the presidential election. It is what democracy should be like across the world.

The United States — who wish to be champions of democracy — have failed on this one where Odinga has succeeded with ease.

Allegations that the Russians influenced the US elections remain uninvestigated up to now.

Whatever happens to Odinga after two months may not be as paramount as the court ruling, which made him the face of global democracy.
But where does the court ruling leave Kenya? This is a million-dollar question, which has left most Kenyan analysts off their chairs. Before voting and the rigging allegations, the polls projected a photo finish, some with Odinga in the lead, while others had Uhuru Kenyatta with a slight lead. The Centre for African Progress (CAP) projected that Odinga would only manage 43% of the presidential vote, while Chetenet predicted a 50,75% for Odinga. However, the Kenya Electoral Commission announced on August 11 that the incumbent Kenyatta secured 54,27%of the ballots cast, while his rival, Raila Odinga, won 44,74%. Given these projections, what happens if the October 31 vote is inconclusive? Of course the only possible permutation is a re-run — which means a third election.

The tensions related to Kenya elections are not only political, but deeply tribal. People there do not vote on the basis of good ideas and policies, but along tribal lines. Most Kikuyus would not vote for a Presidential candidate who is not Kikuyu.

There is fear among the Kikuyu tribe that the day Odinga takes over power, there would be a massacre, something that is unimaginable in this day and age. Since independence Kenya has had only four presidents; Jomo Kenyatta (1964 – 78), Daniel Toroitich arap Moi (1978 – 2002), Mwai Kibaki (2002 – 13) and Uhuru Kenyatta (2013 – ) with only Moi being a
none-Kikuyu. The only reason he became President was that he was the Vice-President when Jomo Kenyatta died in 1978 and he automatically took over as the president.

Stakes were high even before the August 8 elections, but there was preparedness to accept a Kenyatta victory among other tribes — not on the basis of numbers but the power of incumbency. The court ruling has just triggered new hope for other tribes and chances are that the tensions will be thicker than the August 8 election. There is no doubt that whoever uses the words “stealing” and “rigging” effectively, will carry the day on October 31 elections, though the court ruling puts Kenyatta at a disadvantage.

The court ruling itself did not lay the blame on Kenyatta, but it will be easy for Odinga to tell his voters that: “I told you they would steal your votes and we have just proven through the courts that they cannot be trusted.” If that works for Odinga, the next question is, to what extent are Kikuyus prepared to accept an Odinga victory and presidency?

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