T HE presidential election held in Kenya on August 8 which was scheduled to return the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta to office for another term was, in a rare display of judicial courage, recently annulled by the Kenyan Supreme Court. It was the first time in African history that a Supreme Court had upheld an opposition challenge in a presidential election and ordered a rerun. It was a welcome development considering the applause it garnered throughout the continent from observers, including even President Kenyatta himself who, while disagreeing with the ruling, still initially had the decency to sue for peace.
The opposition had complained of widespread irregularities during the poll and the Supreme Court ruled 4-2 in its favour, saying that the electoral commission committed “illegalities and irregularities” in the election. Tension had indeed run high shortly before the election when an official overseeing the electronic polling was found murdered. And even though President Kenyatta displayed rare chivalry by respecting the ruling, the media have since reported him as flaying the justices, calling them wakora, the Swahili word for rascals, and claiming that they stole his victory.
This development is unfortunate, to say the least. Kenya has a history of bitter post-election violence. In 2007, for instance, post-election violence claimed over 1,000 lives. Sadly, the country seems to be headed in that direction now as the leader of the opposition, Raila Odinga, has objected to the new date announced for the rerun and expressed scepticism about the role of the international observers who seemed to have endorsed what he called a fraud. He stated that there was no point in repeating the earlier error if the composition of the electoral commission was not going to be reviewed. Odinga needs to make his point without resorting to provocative language.
In the same vein, the obvious diatribe from President Kenyatta is not helpful in dousing the tension in the politically beleaguered country and it is important for the rerun to be credible enough to guarantee peace in the eventual aftermath of the election results. His threat to fix the judiciary which he believes robbed him of “victory” was obviously in poor taste and beneath his status. He should exercise more circumspection in his utterances as a statesman and leader, seeing the danger in putting any spark to the political tinderbox that Kenya already represents now.
If Kenya desires peace, it must, like its Supreme Court, address its institutional faults as represented by the electoral commission for the process to be really credible. The repeat of post-election violence that has come to define elections in Kenya will be an unnecessary and avoidable blemish. The process of establishing credible and efficient democratic practices and good governance devoid of ethnic distrust is the ideal direction for the country to pursue. We are optimistic that this is possible in a modern Kenya and we urge its people to yearn for this kind of development and work assiduously towards actualising it.
We believe that the best way to build on the example set by the Supreme Court in Kenya is to facilitate the establishment of strong democratic institutions in the country. Nothing should be spared in matters of reform, including the electoral commission which erred in the previous outing that was annulled. While it is good and commendable that the country’s Supreme Court found the courage to tell the truth to power, it would be futile to repeat the error of asking the electoral commission to conduct another poll without being subjected to necessary changes. We are persuaded that the cooperation of the opposition is necessary to achieve a credible poll that can usher in enduring peace in Kenya.