Article by Eugene DeCosse
In a landmark decision in September, the Kenyan Supreme Court decided to void the latest presidential election due to allegations of fraud. The following months may have large ramifications on the future of democracy in Kenya due to the highly contentious election cycle and the long history of electoral fraud in the country.
Initially, the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta had emerged victorious in his reelection campaign against Raila Odinga. Following the results, Al Jazeera reported that Odinga’s National Super Alliance requested an audit of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), who are in charge of carrying out the elections, to check for alleged hacking. Then in late August 2017, the Supreme Court granted the request and gave both parties the ability to audit results. Although official evidence of purposeful fraud was not found, large cases of “irregularities and illegalities” have prompted the Supreme Court to order a new election (Nyabola).
Uhuru Kenyatta has responded by criticizing the decision and alleging that the justices had been, “paid by foreigners and other fools” (“David”) and expressed his displeasure that the larger populace was being disregarded in order to “please one man” (Mwere). However, he has agreed to abide by the ruling.
People in the opposition and international observers have hailed this decision as a victory for free elections and a departure from the often fraudulent and contentious nature of Kenyan Elections. Al Jazeera has called this decision “one of the most decisive victories for African democracy in recent history” and noted that Maraga became the “first African chief justice to oversee the annulment of election results” (Nyabola)
Due to the corruption and violence surrounding recent elections in Kenya, this decision is even more momentous. Most prominently in 2007, then-incumbent Mwai Kibaki prevailed in a close election against Odinga, who is running again this year. Like this year, accusations of electoral fraud were leveled against Kibaki by Odinga. These claims were largely substantiated by international observers, who alleged strong evidence of wrongdoing by Kibaki, with some districts seeing over 100% turnout (Bloomfield). With both Kibaki and Odinga claiming victory, violence erupted as people took to the streets protesting the results. As Kenyans traditionally vote along tribal lines, tribal violence ensued, killing hundreds of people. (Rice)
Following this violence, sweeping changes were made to the Kenyan Government. First, the National Accord and Reconciliation Act of 2008 temporarily reestablished the office of Prime Minister to placate Odinga and the opposition (Kenya). The coalition government that resulted addressed many of the problems that had precipitated the violence, and other issues not previously addressed due to a deadlocked government, and produced a new constitution (Revolvy). This new constitution created the IEBC to oversee future elections (National Council).
This new IEBC saw its first election in 2013 with Kenyatta and Odinga. The election ended with a victory for Kenyatta. While there were some questions on the integrity of the new IEBC, the election was generally regarded as fairly administered and outbreaks of violence were minimal (Kimenyi). This year’s election and the controversy surrounding its administration through the IEBC has been the first contentious issue in the country since the violence of 2007-8.
This September Supreme Court decision to annul these elections represents a notable shift in the administration of free elections in Kenya. The country’s elections have been marked for decades by corruption allegations under former long time leaders Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi (Kraft). The IEBC has scheduled a reelection date of the 27th of October, but the main opposition leader Odinga has refused to participate until reforms are addressed to guarantee fairer elections, including replacing the current leaders of the IEBC (“Kenya”). On the other hand, anti IEBC protests are flaring up in Kenyatta strongholds, with IEBC staff being targeted. (Nation Team)
In this dangerous environment, the commissioner of the IEBC, Dr. Akombe, has fled Kenya and resigned. She explained upon her resignation that,
“The commission in its current state can… not guarantee a credible election on October 26. I do not want to be party to such a mockery [of] electoral integrity”.
She also cited fears for her own life and her staff. Considering Kenya’s history with electoral violence, these rising tensions may indicate a troubling conclusion to this issue. (AFP)
Kenya has made a celebrated step towards fairer elections with its recent judicial decision to renew elections. However, the recent violence and controversy surrounding the newly founded IEBC hints at still unresolved issues regarding the implementation of free elections. Kenya’s ability to respond to these tensions may dictate the future of democracy in Kenya. These are certainly contentious times for the future of free and peaceful elections in Kenya.
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Nyabola, Nanjala. “Why Did Kenya’s Supreme Court Annul the Elections?” Kenya | Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, 2 Sept. 2017, www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2017/09/kenya-supreme-court-annul-elections-170902115641244.html.
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