What should have been a straightforward affair in Kenya turned out to be a dangerous and an unprecedented marathon race being performed on three fronts. The first race started with the ballot boxes and moved on to the courts and then on to the streets.
On the streets police brutality left at least 30 people dead according to human rights organisations. This figure is expected to rise.
From the onset the presidential race was not going to be smooth sailing for any of the two frontrunners. Pollsters had predicted a tight race - neck and neck – the last polls in the run up to the elections said. The two main candidates – the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta of the Jubilee coalition and opposition leader, Raila Odinga of the National Super Coalition NASA, had made solid inroads but as the elections were over and the wait became unbearable, the Independent Elections and Boundary Commission IEBC, released what became scandalous results declaring President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner.
NASA first rejected the results outright and said it was not going to court to challenge them. But barely minutes to the deadline, they filed their comprehensive complaints crying foul and detailed the alleged massive fraud that gave the Jubilee leader more than a million votes over the NASA coalition. After lengthy deliberations, the Kenyan Supreme court gave the NASA party reason cancelling the results and ordered that fresh polls should be organised within a 90-day period as stipulated by the law. It was the first on the continent and the third in the world. Africa was gripped by the mere fact that the judiciary was bold enough to rule against the government of the day.
It was a battle that had just begun. Uhuru Kenyatta and his party stalwarts first accepted the court’s decision and vowed to abide by its rulings. Two days after, however, he poured harsh criticism on the judges and promised to deal with the system when he “gets back to power”. That was certainly not the wisest of statements to come from a president if the judiciary is deemed to be independent.
In their detailed ruling which took a whole day to be read out, the judges put the IEBC on the spot for massive irregularities during the counting and delivery processes and it was on that basis that the NASA coalition demanded for an overhauling of the IEBC. The courts did not make it clear that the team was to be changed but NASA’s argument is that if the team which now has a heavy cloud of doubt over its credibility was not changed there was no guarantee that a repeat performance would not occur.
By every reckoning the 60 day period looked unrealistic if all these changes that the NASA called for were to be done. Added to that are issues having to do with the information technology system that were being used. The French company which had provided them in the first place was adamant that they would not be in a position to optimise their system within the said period. But the Jubilee coalition wouldn’t budge. For them it was campaign all the way and they expressed confidence of winning again by an even larger margin as they believed the opposition had been torn apart with the present state of play.
Nairobi, and indeed Kenya became murky with the political imbroglio. Demonstrations after demonstrations led to scuffles, police intervention with tear gas and in some cases, reportedly live ammunition. The story is a sorry one for both lives and property and for the overall economy of the country.
By every reckoning Kenya is not only the economic powerhouse in the East and Central African region, it is the hub for travellers on the continent and those from South East Asia and the Middle East. Any political turmoil is sure to destabilise an otherwise smooth running country. The demonstrations themselves proved that. Shops were shuttered, vehicles burnt, goods transportation from the port of Mombasa to both East and Central Africa came to a halt. The government intervened and banned demonstrations within the business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu but it was in vain as the opposition challenged the reasoning behind the ban and leaned on the constitution which made provision for demonstrations, albeit peaceful demonstrations.
The story is far from over. It is one thing for Kenya to have led the way on the African continent - where the judiciary is usually considered a lame duck on electioneering issues - by demonstrating that its judiciary could be independent and relied upon, but another for the judiciary itself to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that it can stand the test of time, fearlessly get to the bottom and continue to stand tall.
President Kenyatta was bound to have been hurt by the turn of events. The Jubilee had already celebrated their triumph. Kenyatta had made a preliminary victory speech during which he called on his “elder brother,” Raila Odinga, to come on board and work with him for one Kenya. Was he too confident then that once again, Raila would yield as he did during the Kibaki era when he was said to have been cheated at the polls. Then his ODM party was widely regarded to have won the elections. He ended up becoming a Prime Minister in a coalition government brokered by a team headed by the former United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. This time, he would have none of that. Odinga would fight it doggedly. For now, he said he had pulled out of the race until the IEBC is straightened and prepared to run a credible elections. The October 26 date has remained unchanged. Raila has taken his case beyond the shores of East Africa by going to the United Kingdom to be heard. By doing so he is telling the world that all was still not well in Kenya. For now his group which commands huge support throughout the country is playing the sit and wait game. The Commission has not made things easy either. All the other candidates have been invited to participate in the next polls. By so doing fresh room has been created for them to join the coalition within this short period.
While the rest of Africa looked at Kenya with envy in September following the court ruling, the aftermath has painted a different and unpleasant picture.
It would be too naïve to think that the path the country will soon be treading will be rosy. Flashback to 2007 when political cataclysm led to a series of deaths, destruction of properties, and set the country backwards for some years. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was on the case of the Kenyan leadership and that led to the country pulling the plug from its membership of the ICC.
Will there be a repeat come end of October? This is not something that anybody wishes to befall Kenya.
The last resort should not be the truncheons, the tear gas, the spears, bows and arrows or the bullets. The truncheons should be transformed to ballot papers, the tear gas to ballot boxes, the spears, bows and arrows to songs and the bullets to elation.