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Kenya’s Electoral Paralysis: A Democratic Cul-de-sac and A Recipe for Violence?

By Abdirashid Diriye Kalmoy:

The political tussle between President Uhuru and Opposition chief Raila Odinga has reached boiling point.

On August 8, almost 19.6 million Kenyans went to over 40,000 polling stations across the country to exercise their democratic rights enshrined in the new constitution to elect their counties and national leaders.

Rancid electoral campaign rhetoric had preceded the elections as the international community and citizens of the nation anticipated anxiously a free, fair and peaceful electoral process. After three days of exorbitant tension the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), declared President Uhuru Kenyatta re-elected for a second term.

The international observers from the European Union and Carter center and the African Union hailed the elections as a milestone for Africa’s incessantly plodding democratic evolution and maturity. The former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who headed the African Union team overseeing the election termed it as ‘‘a new dawn for African democracy’’ in a press conference in Nairobi.

The opposition coalition, The National Super Alliance (NASA) headed by the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga cried foul and rejected the announced results. Violent instantaneous demonstration mushroomed across the country in areas where the opposition commanded support and loyalty, and in big cities like Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. 24 Kenyans lost their lives including a nine-year-old girl in Mathare, a slum in Nairobi.

The police force reacted with ferocious violence against the demonstrators who were also uncontrolled, disorganized and in some instances violent in their own way. Kenya was politically and socially in a state of convulsion and mayhem.

Since the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1992, the Nation witnessed violent and ruinous post-election violence in 1997 and 2007. Kenya has failed to exorcise itself of these demons that visit it every election cycle.  Raila Odinga, the opposition flag-bearer finally lodged an election petition contesting the announced presidential results just as he did four year ago, in the supreme court of Kenya.

The Supreme Verdict

Although constrained by a constitutional time-line of fourteen days to give its verdict pertaining to presidential petitions, the Supreme court deliberated and delivered on 1 September a historic  judgment of two to four, ruling that the elections held were ‘‘not in accordance with the constitution ……and hence null and void’’.

The court mandated the IEBC to held a fresh presidential elections within 60 days as stipulated in the constitution. The verdict was a surprise to and unfathomed by many, and equally jubilated the opposition into celebrations.

The supreme court become the first in the continent to overturn a presidential elections. It was a bold verdict that resonated with the much-needed independency of the judiciary from the executive arm of the government. The verdict unearthed enormous flagrant electoral misconducts and irregularities, and concomitantly calling for and persisting on the need for a democratic electoral processes predicated on a reliable, transparent and accountable result transmission mechanisms.

The opposition, NASA, hailed the verdict as a triumph for Kenyan democracy and called for the implication of the IEBC officials. They rightfully called into question the efficacy of the IEBC to deliver a credible elections within sixty days. But, can the removal of the IEBC officials be feasible as a rerun election must be pulled off within 60 days? Meanwhile, the president and his party descended on the independent judiciary with rancorous and chagrin comments bereft of respecting the rule of law and undermining the gradually gestated independency of the judiciary and denting the nations democracy.

The president, Uhuru Kenyatta, in a campaign address lambasted the supreme court judges and called them ‘‘thugs’’ or ‘‘Wakora’’ in Swahili and coup-plotters who stole his election win albeit claiming to disagree but respect and accept the supreme court verdict. The Chief Justice of the Supreme court David Maraga in a firm riposte stated that the judiciary ‘‘will not be intimidated’’ by politicians.

The IEBC will held a repeat presidential elections on 26 of October despite the opposition, NASA, calling for its disbandment and a new IEBC official instituted or they will boycott the election. The oppositions’ recent mantra has been, ‘‘No reforms, No Polls’’. NASA supporters hold regular demonstration at the headquarters of the IEBC calling for its implication. This impasse can culminate into violence and havoc if a modus Vivendi is not reached among the electoral stakeholders and rational heads don’t prevail in the milieu of the ongoing electoral campaigns.

Kenya, unfortunately is susceptible and prone to post-election violence in highly charged and virulent election campaigns, as the one we are witnessing now. Political uncertainties engulfed the nation and a deleterious economic torpor is visible.

The Grand Rematch

On October 26, if the opposition rescind their election boycott strategy the president will face his political nemesis, Raila Odinga. This political battle is reminiscent of their fathers political rivalry: the president, is the son of the nation’s first president, while the opposition leader is the son of the nation’s first vice president. The Kenyattas and the Odingas are political dynasties that have dominated Kenya’s political terrains.

The ethnic battle lines are drawn; dividing the nation into a dyad of polarized poles. However, can the IEBC that oversaw the previous electoral debacle deliver a credible election and save the country from post-election violence? Can the already strained coffers of the taxpayers afford another squander of 500 USD millions costing rerun election?.

Since the supreme court verdict the IEBC has suffered an indelible mark of credibility and efficacy. Leaked inner memos to the public revealed a commission in chaos and an emphatic chasm among the commissioners and their secretariat. The opposition coalition NASA is persistent in incriminating and ipso facto disbandment of the IEBC for its electoral malfeasances in the previous election.

With less than a month to go to elections this is a rabid stance and can initiate a constitutional crisis if elections are not held within 60 days. Both the ruling Jubilee Party(JP) and NASA must show political reticence; enable elections held and not interfere with the IEBC( an independent constitutional body)  as it prepares for the coming election. Kenya can only transcend this jarring Gordian knot with a political modus vivendi and respecting the rule of law.

The opposition should shelve their notion of boycotting the election. The democratic institutions are not perfect but disengaging them is what Kenyans cannot afford. Election campaigns are already going on throughout the nation and its imperative to respect the independency of the Judiciary and the IEBC.

A vertiginous high mountain awaits the IEBC. It cannot afford not to deliver a credible and fair elections. Mr. Wafula Chebukati, the IEBC chair must resuscitate and ameliorate the electoral body’s systems and employ an efficient and verifiable modus operandi that will satisfy all political parties. With the current politically charged ambience, an electoral paralysis will doom the nation.

The IEBC is the last vanguard of Kenya’s democratic impetus, and it is germane that it should safeguard it. A free, fair, credible and verifiable election, as the supreme court demanded, is the only nostrum for peace and democracy in Kenya.


Abdirashid Diriye Kalmoy – is a freelance journalist who contributes to the Pan-Africanist Pambazuka online news and studies Political Science and Public Administration at Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey.

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