It was eerily quiet in the Kenyan capital Nairobi on Monday morning, just before the Supreme Court rendered its verdict on the presidential election early last month. People stayed at home for fear of violence, tensions run so high during elections.
However, the verdict did not shock the nation: The seven judges confirmed William Ruto’s (55) victory and sent relentless opposition leader Raila Odinga (77) into retirement. Odinga has already unsuccessfully participated in elections five times.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court made history by declaring elections invalid for the first time in Africa, due to shoddy organization by the Electoral Commission. This time, the seven judges unanimously rejected all allegations in the petitions, though they still felt the Electoral Commission should ensure better organization next time. “This is in the interest of strengthening democracy,” said one of the judges after the verdict.
In his petition, Odinga’s lawyers argued that the Electoral Commission’s servers had been hacked to enter falsified results forms. Ruto had won with a razor-thin majority of 50.5 percent of the vote, against 48.5 percent for his challenger. The judges decided that there was no interference by people from outside the Election Commission in the transfer of the results. Chief Justice Martha Koome even spoke of “outright falsification” of Odinga’s burden of proof.
Odinga was right on one point. The result was announced by only the chairman of the Election Commission, not by all members. That was illegal, but “insufficient to invalidate the entire election.” Just before the announcement, four of the seven committee members had resigned because they thought the count was “opaque.” The four dissident members also filed a petition, but it was rejected by the judges. “Why did the four only come forward with their criticism at the very end, when they had not expressed any criticism during the counting the days before?” the judges wondered.
Sea of hustling people
In the cities that count as Ruto’s bastions, a sea of hustling yellow people appeared on the streets immediately after the verdict. Yellow is Ruto’s party color. In Kisumu, a stronghold of Odinga where it has been unwise to appear on the street in yellow clothes for weeks, security warnings immediately went out not to go out on the streets. But it remained quiet.
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Previous controversial elections did lead to violence. In early 2008, Kenya even threatened to end up in civil war when – allegedly – Ruto incited his supporters to massacre, allegations that landed the current president at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The ICC was unable to substantiate the charges against Ruto due to intimidation of witnesses and opposition from the Kenyan state. More than a thousand people were killed in 2008, hundreds of people were killed in post-election violence in 2017.
Kenyans engage in politics with passion, partly because politicians build their supporters on a tribal basis. However, violence is usually organized by the politicians, such as in 2008, when rioters were given €5 to loot and €10 to kill. As the polls became better organized and reforms brought fairer judges to adjudicate on irregularities, the less grounds for violence arose.
The election campaigns started four years ago and the newspapers have been full of them for months. “Now we’ve had enough, now we have to get back to work”, is what most Kenyans say. Because elections are expensive. Tobias Alando, head of the Kenya Manufacturers Association, recently warned: “As usual, business is slowing down, with investors from home and abroad taking a wait-and-see attitude.” Since 1992, when the first multi-party elections were held, economic activity has declined by an average of several percent during election years.