On September 1st, the Supreme Court in Kenya annulled the August 8th presidential election, on grounds of substantial illegalities and irregularities. Court ordered the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Kenya’s elections body, to organize a fresh election within 60 days.
On October 10th, opposition candidate Raila Odinga, backed by his fellow National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition members, said that there were indications that the fresh election would be worse than the previous one. He would boycott the highly anticipated October 26th re-run unless the IEBC was reformed.
Since Mr. Odinga’s withdrawal, Kenya’s political temperatures have been mounting.
The last two weeks have witnessed violent protests, attacks on IEBC meetings and the untimely resignation of IEBC Head of Operations Committee, Dr. Roselyn Akombe. Akombe fled to the United States fearing for her security.
You’ll be suicidal to think that nothing will happen to you,
she told BBC, adding that she had never felt the kind of fear that she felt before fleeing her country.
Few hours after her resignation, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati issued a remorseful media briefing in which he attributed Akombe’s resignation to the arrogance of politicians who couldn’t ‘let the commissioners do their work’. Mr. Chebukati didn’t guarantee a free, fair and credible election on Thursday.
What followed was the unprecedented taking of leave of IEBC’s Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba on Friday. The opposition has been demanding for Chiloba’s resignation. However, his temporary exit did not help to neutralize the already charged opposition supporters who, for the last couple of days, have busied the Kenyan streets with protests.
The opposition coalition, NASA, urged their supporters from across the country to desist from participating in the October 26th poll.
“Today, we are changing our clarion call from ‘no reforms, no elections’ to ‘no elections in October’,” Mr. Odinga said while addressing a rally on Wednesday.
On the contrary, Jubliee, Kenya’s ruling party seems geared up for the election exercise. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta has insisted that the election shall take place, calling on citizens to vote for him and his Deputy William Ruto on Thursday. Speaking at Uhuru Park, during the commemoration of Mashujaa Day, Kenyatta stressed government’s readiness to counter any intentions to disrupt the process.
“For those not willing to vote, we will also respect their rights,” Mr. Kenyatta said on Friday, adding that no freedoms would be abused to persuade impunity and create anarchy.
Legally, a presidential candidate must sign Form 24A to confirm withdrawal, which Raila Odinga hasn’t done. This means that Odinga’s candidacy still stands. However, his appearance on the ballot paper won’t be, at all, a sign of compliance. If he maintains his call for scrapping the election schedule, this is bound to cause inexcusable confusion and uncertainty among Kenyans.
What is very certain is the deteriorating security situation, especially in parts of Nairobi and Kisumu. According to Amnesty International, Kenyan Police has “killed” over 30 people since the nullification of the August election, including a 9 year old girl, Stephanie Moraa Nyarangi, and injured hundreds. In the last two weeks, several people have died. The situation might get worse.
In Africa, organizing a Presidential election comes with severe social, economic and political cost. In Kenya particularly, the possibility of deepening the tribal divisions is high. Economists have warned that the current economic situation is worrying. All indications point towards a stranded economy, since insecurity scares away potential investors and crucial taxable activity.
“The prolonged uncertainty created by the elections is likely to slow down the growth of the economy in 2017…,” Mr. Irungu Nyakera, the country’s Planning and Statistics Secretary, cautioned in September. He added that due to this anxiety, sectors such as tourism, which earn the country foreign exchange, are affected.
As we await what is yet to unfold, the biggest responsibility rests with Jubilee and NASA. Both parties should exercise the highest level of restraint. But whether there will be a credible election on October 26th or whether the process will be consumed in the protests, only time will tell. Our hope is that Kenya’s shall, by all means, escape the possibility of drifting back into the 2007 post-election violence, in which over 1000 people died.