UHURU KENYATTA, the son of independent Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta, has been declared the winner of the presidential election held on March 4. He won an outright victory, getting 8,000 votes over the 50 per cent threshold that was required to avoid a second round run-off. In the final vote tally, Kenyatta was far ahead of his closest rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who got 43.3 per cent. In the last presidential election held in 2007, a dispute over the results had led to widespread violence that claimed the lives of over 1,200 people and had plunged the country into chaos for weeks. It was widely accepted at that time that the election was rigged and that Odinga was unjustly deprived of the presidency.
Many of the leaders who vied for the top job in the latest election were accused of organising and funding the violence in 2007. The bloodletting had assumed dangerous ethnic dimensions with the politically dominant Kikuyus pitted against the Luos and the Kalenjins. Uhuru Kenyatta, besides being one of Kenya’s richest men, is a Kikuyu. Odinga belongs to the Luo ethnic group. Both their fathers were also bitter political rivals. Raila’s father, Oginga Odinga, was a firebrand leftist in the 1960s. In 2007, Raila Odinga’s running mate was William Ruto, a Kalenjin. This time, Ruto, chose to run with Kenyatta against Odinga.
Both Kenyatta and Ruto were indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their role in the 2007 bloodshed. There were charges against Odinga, too, but the ICC eventually decided to let him off the hook. The ICC’s indictment played a big role in Kenyatta and Ruto forging an alliance. They calculated that their combination was unbeatable at the polls and that once in high office they would be better able to fight the cases against them. Both of them have given a solemn assurance to the ICC that they would present themselves for hearing at The Hague even while holding the two top posts in the country.
On the campaign trail, Odinga had tried to persuade Kenyans not to vote for those indicted for crimes against humanity. He said the country’s image would be impacted adversely if the President and the Vice-President had to make frequent trips to The Hague. But Kenyans have historically voted on the basis of ethnicity and it was no different this time.
Odinga has challenged the results in the Kenyan Supreme Court. He said he had “proof” of “rampant illegality” in the democratic process and that “democracy was on trial in Kenya”. Most observers, however, were of the view that despite shortcomings the election was conducted more transparently and efficiently. It was the first election to be held under a new Constitution, which was approved in 2010, and an independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.