Kenya faces an extended period of political and economic uncertainty after the Supreme Court tossed out the results of last month’s presidential election in a stunning decision that’s unprecedented in Africa.
The judges ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days, opening an intense campaign at risk of being marred by violence. The news sparked celebrations in the capital, Nairobi, and in Kisumu, stronghold of opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who said the ruling marked “a historic day” for the people of Kenya. President Uhuru Kenyatta, winner of the annulled vote, said he disagreed with the decision but would respect it.
With its decision that the electoral commission failed to conduct a fair vote, the six-judge court demonstrated its enduring independence from the government of the day. It came at a time when demands for political change are spreading across Africa. Opposition parties won power in the past five years in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal. The ruling also clouds the outlook for the country’s slowing economy.
“The historic Supreme Court ruling pours uncertainty on the Kenyan economy,” said Emma Gordon, an analyst at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft. “Investors will be concerned about the financial implications and the high risk of violence. With the possibility of the new election going to a second round and the result being contested again, political uncertainty could easily last the rest of the year.”
The ruling Chief Justice David Maraga read out Friday to a packed Nairobi courtroom was a damning rebuke to the electoral commission, which repeatedly denied opposition claims that hackers rigged the vote results on its computer systems. The decision helps entrench the rule of law in Kenya, one of the key pillars of the country’s long-term development plan, said Jibran Qureishi, East Africa economist at Stanbic Holdings Ltd.
“This is an extraordinary ruling,” Qureishi said in a research note. “It affirms our narrative regarding institutional strength and maturity.”
The outcome of the new vote is too close to call, with the same officials who ran the last one probably remaining in charge of the rerun, said Phillip O. Nying’uro, chairman of the department of political science at the University of Nairobi.
“It is going to be very tricky; we may end up with the same outcomes,” he said.
IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission is awaiting the court’s written judgment before making any decisions about what action it will take. Odinga called for six electoral commission officials to face criminal prosecution.
“Clear evidence shows that the commission was taken over by criminals who ran the general elections using the technology system and inserted a computer-generated leadership,” he told reporters on Friday.
Kenya, the world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Coca Cola Co., faces an increased chance of violence, said John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London.
“The ruling leaves the authorities with little time to improve or reform the scandal-plagued election commission, which may throw doubt on the result,” he said. “Opposition supporters –- whose distrust in the voting system appears to have been validated –- may see another win for president Kenyatta as proof that the authorities are conspiring against them.”
Kenyatta rejected the opposition’s demands that electoral officials vacate office and asked the body to announce a date for fresh elections, his office said in an emailed statement Saturday. The current commission will supervise the new vote, Kenyatta said.
Clashes between security forces and Odinga supporters claimed 24 lives after the result was declared on Aug. 11, according to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. The opposition put the death toll at more than 100 people, while police confirmed 10 deaths in Nairobi and didn’t release tolls from other areas. The deaths evoked memories of two months of ethnic conflict after a disputed 2007 vote that left more than 1,100 people dead.
Kenyan shares tumbled and the currency dropped after the court ruling, reflecting perceptions that prolonged elections mean more uncertainty, said Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered Plc in London. The benchmark stock index closed down 3.7 percent, while the shilling weakened 0.1 percent against the dollar. Safaricom Ltd., the country’s largest company, dropped as much as 10 percent, the biggest decline in a year.
East Africa’s largest economy is in the throes of its worst drought in three decades that’s curbed output of corn, a staple, and driven up consumer prices. Gross domestic product expanded at the slowest pace since 2014 in the first quarter as farming output shrank. The government expects growth to slow to 5.5 percent this year, from 5.8 percent in 2016.
“A re-run of the election will contribute to more uncertainty and prolong any return to business-as-usual,” Khan said. “The continuation of sub-par economic performance, and its implications for fiscal revenue, is of course a negative for bonds.”
Odinga, a former prime minister, waged unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1997, 2007 and 2013. The Supreme Court threw out his allegations of rigging in the 2013 vote that propelled Kenyatta to power, a ruling Odinga has previously described as a “travesty of justice.”
A few hours after Kenya’s polling stations closed on Tuesday August 8th, the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission began transmitting live results.
But even before it had a chance to complete the tallying process, the opposition candidate Raila Odinga and his National Super Alliance (NASA) disputed the credibility and fairness of the process, claiming that they had garnered 8.04 million votes against Uhuru Kenyatta’s 7.7 million.
These results differed widely from the official electoral figures which on Friday placed Kenyatta in the lead with 8.1 million votes, and Odinga in second place with 6.7 million.
History seems to be on the side of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission: international observers – of which there were 400 at various stations on polling day – have by and large come out to say that the process was credible. If we take the practice of democracy as playing the game and abiding by the rules, then for Kenya the game is far from over.
In the end, the final judgement could be made by the country’s courts. The rules governing elections in Kenya are set down in the constitution which states that a candidate will be declared president if he or she has received more than half of all the votes cast in the election, and that at least 25% of the votes cast in each of more than half of the counties.
If indeed there is an election petition, both sides are heavily invested in the outcome. For Odinga it is do or die. He has unsuccessfully contested for the top seat three times. However, despite this being his last shot, he has maintained that legal recourse is not an option.
The future of his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka is also uncertain – results show that some of the candidates vying for gubernatorial seats on his Wiper party ticket were unsuccessful, thereby lowering his political party’s future value proposition.
For Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto the marriage of convenience is under pressure to continue for another five years to pave the way for Ruto’s succession.
Things that stood out
Despite the fears of post-election violence there was a lot of goodwill for this election to be a success. Campaigns for a “tribeless Kenya” and various activities that promoted peaceful elections were a part of the pre-poll fabric.
While there were multiple reports predicting violence, there was relative calm after voters had gone to the polls. And for the most part Kenyans have so far affirmed that no blood needs to be shed.
But there has been violence. Kenyans in low-income areas been caught up in deadly clashes with the police.
These incidents have been localised to opposition areas and the majority of Kenyans seem eager to return to normalcy. This resolve is being tested by the opposition alliance which announced on Sunday that it was preparing a post-election strategy. Many fear that this could heighten tensions further. The election, and its aftermath, provide an opportunity for Kenya to reflect on how the electoral process went and how, in the future, it can deal with complaints and inconsistencies better.
But there have been many positive reports on the election process. These, combined with what observers say was largely a free and fair election, have increased international confidence in Kenya’s election processes.
What was memorable
What will the 2017 election be remembered for?
The road to Canaan: The 2017 election was an incumbent election with polls consistently showing an incumbent win for Kenyatta. Nevertheless, the opposition colourfully portrayed their campaign as the Road to Canaan, with Joshua (their flag bearer Odinga) leading them to the Promised Land full of milk and honey. The biblical story of Joshua is of a military commander who takes the mantle from Moses. His mission is to take the Israelite tribes to the land of Canaan after 40 years of wandering. The story of Canaan is one of hope and the message resonated with many Kenyans.
The year of the independent candidate: Legislation that put a definitive end to party hopping after the party nomination process gave rise to the “big two” National Super Alliance and Jubilee Party coalitions.
In my opinion this legislation changed Kenya’s political landscape because smaller parties were swallowed up by the big coalitions. Many who tried to secure nominations from the Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance failed. They were therefore left no option but to stand as independent candidates if they wanted to keep alive their dreams of running for office.
But the election results have shown that the independent movement failed to get off the ground. By and large Kenyans favoured candidates from one of the big two coalitions. Only two counties – Isiolo and Laikipia – went against this trend, electing independent candidates as their next governors.
More women elected: In terms of gender representation, there’s a lot to be encouraged by, not least the fact that the first women governors were elected. The council of governors had previously been a male preserve. The number of women in elected seats also rose from 16 in 2013 to 22 in this election.
Leaders who work: The election results also showed the reduction in appetite for leaders who don’t deliver. This was clear from the number of incumbents who were unsuccessful in their bids to return to their posts.
In the end, election days come and go. The next phase is all that matters now. The intense electoral competition and the choices people made show that there is enough room for all Kenyans to participate – whether they belong to a big party or not – and to do so in a meaningful way.
There are eight candidates for the presidency in Kenya’s 2017 election. Of these, two are the main contenders; Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and Raila Amolo Odinga. This is a replica of the 2013 polls where the two presidential candidates were the dominant opponents.
The running mate configuration has not changed either, with both retaining their previous partners. William Ruto for Kenyatta and Kalonzo Musyoka for Odinga. The only thing that has changed is their party identities.
Kenyatta’s 2013 Jubilee coalition is now the Jubilee Party, comprising most of the constituent parties that had been part of the coalition. The 2013 Jubilee formation was an alliance between parties loyal to the president, and his deputy William Ruto.
For its part Odinga’s camp underwent a coalition overhaul, morphing from the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy to the National Super Alliance. The coalition brings together several parties, both old and new, led by the Orange Democratic Movement, Odinga’s longtime party.
Latest polls have indicated that the two candidates are neck-and-neck. Both have factors working for and against them.
A few things are in Kenyatta’s favour. At 55 years of age, he is a young president who represents generational change. Kenyatta also comes from one of the wealthiest families in Kenya. Forbes Magazine ranks him as the 26th richest person in Africa, with an estimated fortune of $500m. This means that he’s been able to contribute financially to a vibrant campaign.
As the incumbent some would also argue that he has had access to state resources and agencies to facilitate his re-election. Incumbency has also allowed him to drive his campaign on the steam of his development record and flagship projects in infrastructure, the energy sector and public service delivery.
In terms of voting blocs, Kenyatta has the support of Kenya’s two most populous ethnic groupings: the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (GEMA) and the Kalenjin. The registered voters in the GEMA grouping are approximately 5,588,389, in the Kalenjin are 2,324,559.
Combined, that’s 7,912,948 votes, which is equivalent to 40% of the electorate. That’s a formidable start when you consider that presidential strongholds have historically recorded a higher voter turnout during elections.
The Jubilee presidency is seen as a two-man show. This has contributed to the perception that Jubilee is not ethnically representative.
Odinga has many things going for him. High up on the list are his charisma and strong political mobilisation skills. Historically, Odinga has always been a formidable opposition politician; not being an incumbent has enabled him to galvanise effectively.
Odinga enjoys wider ethnic support compared to President Kenyatta, comprising among others the Kamba, Luhya, Luo and Maasai tribes. These communities comprise over a third of the voting population. But the disadvantage is their historically lower record of voter turnout.
At 72 years of age, Odinga represents the older generation of Kenyan leaders who joined politics in the 1970s and 80s. And this being his fourth attempt at the presidency, there’s lethargy among some of his supporters.
He’s viewed by some as power hungry and untrustworthy, especially because of his alleged association with Kenya’s 1982 coup. His calls for mass action after the contentious 2007 election, during a period that saw the displacement and death of thousands of Kenyans, also contributed to this perception.
The main political formations
There are two main formations in the 2017 election - the Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance.
The Jubilee Party, formed in September 2016, followed a merger between The National Alliance and the United Republican Party representing two ethnic communities - the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. The Jubilee Party also has the support of other political parties including the Kenya African National Union, NARC Kenya, the Labour Party and the Democratic Party amongst others.
The National Super Alliance is a coalition of political parties formed in April 2017. Its leading lights are Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, the Wiper Democratic Movement led by Kalonzo Musyoka, the Amani National Congress led by Musalia Mudavadi, Ford Kenya led by Moses Wetangula and Isaac Ruto’s Chama Cha Mashinani. The coalition brings together the Luo, Kamba and Luhya ethnic groups, and a section of the Kalenjin community.
In this election cycle party manifestos have become increasingly important. This explains the Jubilee administration’s scramble to complete promises outlined in its 2013 document.
The Jubilee Party has made even more promises in its recently launched manifesto. Three that have caught the public attention include the creation of 1.3 million jobs a year, free public secondary education and the expansion of Kenya’s food production capacity.
The National Super Alliance’s promises are more political. They include a constitutional amendment to provide for a hybrid executive system to foster national cohesion. Two other notable promises are to lower the cost of rent by enforcing the Rent Restriction Act and to implement free secondary education.
Strengths and weaknesses
The strengths of the Jubilee Party lie mainly in its incumbency and its development track record over the last four-and-a-half years. But the party has been weakened by divisions within its ranks. These were amplified during the campaign as disagreements broke out over the leadership of campaign teams. The ruling party is also handicapped to the extent that it’s not as ethnically diverse as its competitor.
The National Super Alliance’s main strength lies in its ethnic diversity. Its five principals represent different ethnic communities.
The super alliance also creatively captures the zeitgeist of a section of the electorate, with some of its campaign slogans such as vindu vichenjanga (‘things are a-changing’ in the Luhya dialect) making their way into popular use. It is riding on the euphoric wave that usually accompanies the hope of regime change.
One of its weaknesses, however, includes a perceived predilection to violence because the opposition has previously resorted to mass action. In 2016 for example, it organised a series of protests to mobilise for the removal of key members of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries commission, the body responsible for organising the general election.
Another weakness is its close association with allegedly corrupt financiers.
There is a perception that historically, the presidency has been the preserve of two ethnic groups – the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin. This feeling of disenfranchisement has become a key campaign issue.
There are however, some non-tribal issues that have taken the foreground. These include corruption, economic and social stability, lower cost of living and improved security.