World View: Kenya’s Supreme Court Issues ‘Historic’ Ruling, Overturning Presidential Election

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This morning’s key headlines from

  • Kenya’s Supreme Court issues ‘historic’ ruling, overturning presidential election
  • John Kerry and other election observers come under harsh criticism

Kenya’s Supreme Court issues ‘historic’ ruling, overturning presidential election

Supporters of Raila Odinga celebrate the court ruling (CNN)
Supporters of Raila Odinga celebrate the court ruling (CNN)

Kenya’s Supreme Court on Friday ruled that the August 8 re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta was invalid, and that a new election must be held within 60 days. The court found that Kenyatta “was not validly elected,” rendering the result “invalid, null and void.” The ruling was a victory for opposition leader Raila Odinga, who had brought the case, claiming that the election had been rigged.

The ruling was a complete shock to everyone, including both Kenyatta supporters and opposition, but no one had expected the court to rule against Kenyatta. Corruption is so pervasive in African countries, including Kenya, that normally judges will rule in whatever way the president pays them to rule, and everyone expected Kenya’s Supreme Court judges to do the same in this case, irrespective of the evidence.

In fact, the ruling is being called “historic,” because it’s the first time that a legal challenge to a presidential election has ever been successful in the entire history of Africa. Odinga said:

It’s a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension the people of Africa. For the first time in history of African democratization a ruling has been made by a court nullifying irregular elections for the president.

Kenyatta said:

I personally disagree with the ruling that has been made today but I respect it. Millions of Kenyans made their choice but six people [the judges] have decided that they will go against the will of the people.

Supporters of Odinga were ebullient, and celebrated in the streets for hours. Odinga himself added:

It is now clear that the entire edifice of the (election board) is rotten. Clear evidence shows that the commission was taken over by criminals … they must face criminal prosecution. … We are ready but cannot repeat the election with this commission.

It’s thought that the reasons for the court’s ruling included the following:

  • The election computer network was a mess. Eight days before the election, Chris Msando, who was in charge of IT systems for Kenya’s electoral commission, went missing eight days before the election. His naked body was found three days later with his left hand and fingers broken, a swollen injury on his head, and evidence of strangulation. Nobody has been arrested for Msando’s murder, but many people suspect that his murder was part of rigging the election. Odinga claimed that the election computer network servers had been hacked.
  • The paper tally sheets were a mess. Each district was supposed to provide paper tally sheets to support the vote count in that district, as it had been transmitted over the election computer network. However, at least 20-25 percent of the tally sheets had disappeared, or did not have the appropriate watermark, suggesting that they had been fabricated.
  • Odinga claimed that his poll watchers had found different vote tallies in some district than had been reported to the electoral commission.
  • Odinga had challenged the election results in 2007, and his concerns were ignored. This triggered a violent inter-tribal bloodbath, between Odinga’s Luo tribe and his opponent’s Kikuyu tribe, killing more than 1,300 people and displacing 600,000, and punctuated by numerous atrocities. There has been a lot of nervousness in Kenya about a possible repeat of that violence, and it’s possible that the judges were afraid that if they simply threw out Odinga’s case, then it would trigger the violence again.

The court will provide detailed reasoning for its decision within 21 days.

The court ruled that a new election must be held within 60 days. However, an election is enormously expensive, and Kenya is deeply in debt. Furthermore, after the last election fiasco, it will be hard to convince people that the next election will be fair. Standard Media (Kenya) and The Nation (Kenya) and Reuters

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John Kerry and other election observers come under harsh criticism

After the August 8 election, and after Uhuru Kenyatta had been declared a provisional winner, his opponent Raila Odinga began claiming that the election had been rigged.

At that point, John Kerry, who had been former president Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, and who had led the Jimmy Carter Center’s election observer mission in Kenya, said:

Kenya has made a remarkable statement to Africa and the world about its democracy and the character of that democracy. Don’t let anybody besmirch that.

Well, now that Kenya’s Supreme Court has besmirched it, Kerry and other election day observers are coming under attack in Kenya. They are being accused of blindly endorsing the election to produce the outcome desired by the government, and of completely ignoring the concerns raised by the opposition.

Muthoni Wanyeki, who served as Amnesty International’s East Africa Regional Director, supports these accusations against “the election observer industry,” and goes further:

I feel a real anger about the way they treat us. I’ve had diplomats say to my face that, speaking in the light of history, this election was an improvement [from past elections]. I’m sorry we do not live in history, we live in the here and now and we have a right to free and fair elections. Their attitude in condescending, neocolonial and by saying that things are improving, they’re treating us like small children. Hopefully this ruling is like egg on their face.

John Kerry on Friday said then that while there were “little aberrations here and there,” the election was not rigged. France 24 and CNN and Foreign Policy

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Chris Msando, John Kerry, Muthoni Wanyeki
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