Kenya’s Election: The Ongoing Battle for More Democracy
As featured in Edition 41, available here.
By SHU YU LIM (2nd year - Philosophy, Politics and Economics - Singapore)
William Ruto, Kenya’s former Deputy President, is now the fifth President of Kenya. According to the results of the recent election, he took 50.5 percent of the vote, narrowly beating Raila Odinga’s 48.9 percent. Ruto’s win was a hard-fought one. He had been the underdog throughout the election, with opinion polls and media houses speculating Odinga to take home the presidency.
Closely after the election, four Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commissioners (IEBC) held a brief press conference denouncing the legitimacy of the election. The IEBC Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, had previously made the unilateral decision to announce the election results, despite grave concerns about mathematical errors in the vote count and the untransparent tallying of votes in 30 constituencies. Odinga swiftly swung into action, holding a press conference outing Chebukati and calling for re-election.
This is largely reminiscent of Kenya’s 2017 elections when Odinga, again, denounced the election as unconstitutional. That was on the grounds of the alleged hacking of electronic election results. Similar to the current situation, this issue was brought before the Supreme Court.
However, this odd alignment of events seems too coincidental and almost deliberate. These four IEBC commissioners had been appointed by former president Uhuru Kenyatta, who threw his support behind Odinga. This raises doubts about Odinga’s claims. Could the IEBC’s press conference have been an orchestrated and opportune ploy for Odinga to seek re-election? Even if Odinga does not become president after the possible recount of votes, he could very well, once again, sow political and ethnic discord in the country. This would destabilise Ruto’s presidency, adding fuel to the economic fire of stagflation and widespread unemployment. Both outcomes seem to be in Odinga’s favour. For him, there are negligent consequences.
Odinga’s repeated claims of rigging expose the fundamental stressors of Kenya’s electoral system. In 2017, he claimed that the IEBC’s database was hacked and the results had been altered. The IEBC’s ICT manager died two weeks after the exposé. A coincidence? Perhaps not. In this election, Odinga has successfully dredged up more dirt, citing the illegality of Venezuelans voting during the election.
Ultimately, there is a structural problem with Kenya’s voting system. Kenyans have traditionally doubted the legitimacy of the vote-counting process, even after several attempts at overhauling it. The electoral commission lacks punitive measures to hold commissioners accountable should they be suspected of election-rigging. At the same time, the electoral commission requires more powers to scrutinise individuals elected to the helm. In a country ridden with corruption and divided along the lines of ethnic allegiance mired with political leanings, it is almost impossible to source for “clean” commissioners that can be objective. Admittedly, Kenya’s elections have become more transparent since the founding of IEBC. However, it still has a tremendously long way to go. This ugly debacle within the IEBC may further raise suspicions within Kenyans, incentivising more to withhold their votes whilst increasing disillusionment and political apathy towards the status quo.
However, there is a silver lining to this election. This election has revealed Kenyans breaking away from ethnic voting blocs, steering instead towards politicians with similar economic and political alignments to their own. With more democratic elections following suit, that paves the way for competent politicians who are better equipped to restore Kenya’s glory as the economic powerhouse of East Africa.
The profiles of the running candidates in this election drastically differ from that of 2017’s. Ruto, a self-made billionaire, champions the rags-to-riches story, and is touted as Kenya’s ‘hustler-in-chief”. On the other hand, Odinga was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, having been the son of Kenya’s inaugural vice-President. This election has been coined “hustlers versus dynasties”; an apt representation of the starkly different backgrounds of both politicians. Comparatively, the 2017 election between Kenyatta and Odinga featured two dynastic rulers from two of the country’s largest ethnic groups. Ethnic fissures had already existed and were tapped on during the election, resulting in an extremely violent post-election period. 2022’s election, which employed a different political rhetoric of solving economic concerns and corruption, is therefore speculated to not be as fraught as 2017’s. Ethnicity seems to have taken a backseat.
The Supreme Court has dismissed Odinga’s eight petitions to annul the results of the 9th August’s election, citing petitioners’ falsifying evidence. Odinga has been a good sport in this regard, accepting the election results. Against the backdrop, the more important concern is for Kenya to relook at its electoral committee to prevent the recurrence of mudslinging politics.
Image: Flickr/ Kabuubi Media Africa