Kenya’s troubling presidential election - GulfToday

Kenya’s troubling presidential election

William Ruto

William Ruto

The closely fought Kenyan presidential election has ended on a fractious note with vice-president William Ruto winning it by a narrow margin, defeating the opposition leader Raila Odinga. Ruto secured 50.49 per cent of the vote and Odinga 48.85 per cent. Odinga is popular among the poor, especially in the slum districts of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital because he had fought against their eviction, and he is the one who fought for the restoration of multi-party democracy in the country. The election result is caught in controversy as members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) refused to endorse the outcome, saying that they thought the final phases of the counting were opaque. “We cannot take ownership of the result that is going to be announced,” deputy chairperson of the election body Juliana Cherera said.

The Odinga team is questioning the legality of the verdict because IEBC members walked out and there was no quorum. They want to challenge the verdict on legal grounds. But Ruto tried to send out a reassuring message. He said, “There are no losers. The people of Kenya have won because we raised the political bar. There is no looking back, we are looking to the future, we need all hands on deck to move forward.” Odinga has been supported by outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta although Kenyatta and Odinga have been rivals, and Odinga lost out to Kenyatta in previous presidential elections.

Political analyst Javas Bigambo said, “Raila Odinga and his party have got seven days to file a petition in the Supreme Court.” Ngala Chome of the Nairobi-based think tank Sahan Research was of the view: “Of course anything can change, especially depending on what Raila Odinga does next. But I’m still confident that the kind of levels of violence we’ve seen in previous elections, especially in 2007, will not be repeated this time around. There will be scuffles, there will be protests. But also security agencies I am sure are quite prepared to respond and to restore.”

The political unrest in Kenya over the election result is reflection of the fractious politics, mostly based on ethnic differences, that dominated Kenyan politics ever since it had become independent in 1963. Violence marked the anti-colonial struggle, and after independence it soon slipped into a politically oppressed country. In many ways, 55-year-old Ruto marks a change. He is a rags-to-riches businessman-turned-politician who has campaigned on economic issues more than ethnic rivalries. Economic underdevelopment and poverty are two main issues facing Kenya. Cartoonist Patrick Gathara in an opinion column of Al Jazeera wrote that the problem with the Kenyan polity is “the historical amnesia that much of the country suffers from, which means problems are allowed to fester for years as a parasitic elite engorges itself on public’s resources, and you have a highly combustible mix of ambition, malfeasance and grievance.”

The political unrest in the country is reflected in the fact that the Supreme Court had annulled the 2017 election, and there was widespread violence after the 2007 election. Political observers in the country hope that this time round whatever the dissatisfaction of Odinga and his followers the issue would be settled through constitutional means. The situation in the country is delicately balanced on the approach that Odinga would want to adopt. If outbreak of violence is averted then it can be said that Kenya has moved on in its political journey. The country has the important challenge of improving the economic lot of the majority of the people of an important country in Africa. The country can provide the lead to many other countries in the region is managing the political contradictions.

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