Kenya plunged deeper into crisis on Wednesday after a no-show by a majority of Supreme Court judges scuppered an eleventh-hour petition to delay a presidential election and the governor of a volatile opposition region endorsed rebellion against the state.
Within minutes of Supreme Court chief justice David Maraga announcing that five judges had failed to turn up, preventing a quorum, hundreds of supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga took to the streets of Kisumu, his main stronghold.
Riot police used teargas to disperse them. One protester had a gunshot wound to the buttocks, a witness said.
Odinga successfully challenged the outcome of an initial ballot in August, which he had lost, in the same court.
“We were expecting Maraga to cancel (Thursday‘s) elections. This means the push for postponement of the election is on,” said George Mbija, a motorcycle taxi driver in the western city.
“As we wait for Raila to give us the direction, the status quo remains: No reforms, No election.”
The opposition leader has called on loyalists to boycott Thursday’s vote, because he said the election board’s failure to institute reforms means it will be neither free nor fair.
Kisumu governor Anyang Nyong‘o, a hardline Odinga supporter, went a step further.
“If the government subverts the sovereign will of the people … then people are entitled to rebel against this government,” Nyong‘o told reporters in Kisumu.
Such comments seem certain to fuel fears of a major confrontation with security forces, already blamed for killing nearly 50 people in Kisumu and Nairobi slums after the canceled August vote.
For some in East Africa’s economic powerhouse, the instability has rekindled memories of large-scale ethnic violence that killed 1,200 people following a disputed election in 2007.
Shoppers crammed into Nairobi’s upmarket Carrefour supermarket to stock up on food, said Jason Straziuso, who had to wait nearly two hours to pay for his groceries.
“There was about 40 carts per register, everyone was jockeying for position trying to find the shortest line,” he said. “Every single cart was as full as it could be.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who won the annulled election by 1.4 million votes, has made clear he wants the re-run to go ahead. With the Supreme Court – the only institution that can delay it – unable to meet, it appears he will get his way.
“God is great! The evil schemes to deny Kenyans the right to vote kesho (tomorrow) have failed. WE WILL DECIDE and move our country forward tomorrow,” Deputy President William Ruto said in a tweet.