Kenyans Anxious Over Election Ruling

Kenyans are nervously awaiting the decision of their country’s Supreme Court as to whether president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the March 4 election will stand.

Kenyatta’s main rival, Raila Odinga, filed a legal challenge on March 16, prompting a two-week court process that will see judges reach a decision by March 30.

Kenyans have been relieved that this dispute is being handled by the courts, given the violence that broke out after the last election controversy in December 2007. But Odinga’s challenge has increased political tensions, as there is no definitive outcome nearly a month after election day.

“I just want the court to make a ruling on the case so that we can move forward. The two weeks has been long enough – we are anxiously waiting for this ruling,” said Mercy Muiruri, who works for a mobile phone company in Nairobi.

According to results published by Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC, on March 9, Kenyatta won the presidency with 50.1 per cent against Odinga’s 43.3 per cent of the vote.

Kenyatta’s score meant that he cleared the 50 per cent target he required to win outright in the first round, by a margin of 4,000 votes.

Odinga has insisted that there were numerous problems with the polling process, and he has asked for a fresh ballot. If judges uphold his challenge, Kenyans will have to go to the polls again, with all eight presidential candidates running for a second time in 60 days’ time.

Jacqueline Mugo, executive director of the Federation of Kenya Employers, is among those appealing for restraint in the run-up to the Supreme Court’s decision.

“This situation is indeed alarming and has negative effects on the business environment, as these political tensions we witness – especially on the social media – have slowly crept into the workplace,” she said. “This is not desirable, and we are appealing to all Kenyans to remain calm as we wait for the outcome of the petition.”

Mugo says the long drawn-out process has had a negative impact on business, noting that some people have not been back to work since the March 4 vote. She said it had also caused friction between colleagues.

“The situation is worrying to an extent that some sugar companies in the western region have resorted to team briefs to reassure workers that the matter is in the safe hands of the Supreme Court,” she said.

In some parts of the country, trade has remained sluggish since polling day. Fears of unrest stemming from the Supreme Court decision have meant that towns like Kisumu in western Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley region have started running short of supplies.

“Stocks in the shops are slowly dwindling and transporters have held their trucks [back] in Nairobi,” Mugo said. “In Rift Valley and Coast regions, business is quite slow as business owners are awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Court.”

After a largely peaceful election, tensions began simmering when Odinga filed his court petition and held political rallies in the capital Nairobi, in the Kibera slum on the city’s outskirts, and in the coastal city of Mombasa. He sought to reassure his supporters that he would still win the presidency through the courts.

The authorities helped calm things down by banning political rallies, and barring politicians from making statements that might inflame the situation.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, who is one of the Supreme Court judges hearing Odinga’s challenge, also warned candidates not to jeopardise the legal process by discussing it publicly.

The Supreme Court petition is being heard by six judges – Mutunga, Mohammed Ibrahim, Jackton Ojwang, Philip Tunoi, Njoki Ndung’u and Smokin Wanjala.

In his petition, Odinga finds fault with the IEBC’s voter registration and vote-counting system, which he argues compromised the results. He alleges that in several areas, the number of votes counted was greater than the number of registered voters.

Odinga also argues that the IEBC contravened Kenya’s constitution by resorting to manual counting after the electronic tallying system crashed.

“IEBC failed to correctly count, tally and verify the presidential votes,” Odinga complained in his written filing. “IEBC chairman Issack Hassan’s tally of registered voters mysteriously grew overnight by a large proportion on election eve.”

The IEBC says it was legally within its rights to resort to manual counting when the electronic system failed.

Kenyatta made similar arguments to the court.

“The constitution does not impose a duty on the IEBC to transmit results electronically, and it is a misconception of the law by Odinga to contend that either registration, identification of voters and transmission of results was to be done through an electronic system,” he submitted.

Judges have ordered a recount of the presidential votes from 22 polling stations and requested an audit of the forms used to compile polling station counts. However they rejected a request by the Africa Centre for Open Governance, AFRICOG, that the IEBC produce voter registers from all polling stations.

When the outcome of Kenya’s last presidential election in December 2007 was disputed, the country descended into violence along political and ethnic lines. More than 1,100 people were killed and half a million lost their homes.

This time, Kenyans are grateful that the matter is being settled in court. Many welcome the television coverage which has enabled them to clearly understand the issues being contested.

“I like it because the courts are doing it publicly and we are able to follow the proceedings on TV. I have been watching it since they started and I am now tired; I can’t watch them any more. I am waiting for the main ruling,” said Aggrey Onyango, a mechanic in Buru Buru in Nairobi and a keen supporter of Odinga.

As the court weighs Odinga’s challenge, people like Onyango are just looking for a clear, legally-binding outcome.

“It is difficult working because we cannot concentrate. We don’t know if we are going back to an election. We are just prepared for anything, because Kenya must move forward,” Onyango said. “This issue has really disturbed us, but we are ready to abide by the courts just like Raila [Odinga] said.”

Kevin Mwangi, a waiter in a Nairobi restaurant, said he was tired of hearing his customers debate the court petition and argue over the possible implications of the final ruling.

“There are two groups which usually argue on those issues here,” Mwangi said. “When will the ruling come out so we all know the truth and move forward?”

In Kisumu, one of Odinga’s strongholds, businesswoman Everline Ochieng said that if the Supreme Court rejected the challenge, members of Odinga’s Luo ethnic group would accept its verdict.

“The mood down here in Luo land is very low, business is very slow, people are gloomy, and this is all because even if Raila [Odinga] loses the petition and Uhuru [Kenyatta] is sworn in as president, we will accept him,” she said. “But we feel like our democratic right to vote was ignored.”

In order for Odinga’s challenge to be upheld, the judges must rule in his favour by a majority of four to two. If they are divided equally for and against, the challenge will be turned down and Kenyatta will be declared president.

If Kenyatta’s victory is upheld, he will be sworn in as president on April 7.

Bernard Momanyi is a reporter for and News Editor at Capital FM in Nairobi.

This article was produced as part of a media development programme by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation in partnership with Capital FM.