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Lagos — “We are here this evening to witness this momentous occasion as the people of Kenya restate what is in article one of the constitution of Kenya that all sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya… I want to thank God for getting us to this point. I want to thank God that today we have concluded this election. I know that there were predictions that I wouldn’t get to the ballot, there were predictions that we would not be here, but because there is a God in Heaven we are here, and I want in a very special way to say, and to confess, that without God, we wouldn’t have been here.” – William Ruto, Deputy President and President-elect, Republic of Kenya, Monday, August 15, 2022.
And thus, it is done: the people of the Republic of Kenya have elected a new President in the person of the current Deputy President William Samoei Arap Ruto, 55, who, barring any untoward developments, will succeed his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta for whom the constitutional two-term limit of 10 years has come to an end. Kenya’s Constitution requires the winning candidate to receive 50% of the vote plus one, and at least 25% of the vote from 24 of the country’s 47 counties. A keenly contested election, which resulted in six days of vote counting, much anxiety and apprehension, as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) uploaded and collated the results, ended with William Ruto, candidate of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) winning 50.5% of the vote, that is 7.1 million votes. His closest challenger, Raila Odinga, 77, candidate of the Orange Democratic Movement/Azimio One Kenya Alliance, got 48.9% of the votes, that is 6.9 million votes. There were four major presidential candidates in this election, and the third is particularly interesting: Professor George Wajackoyah, candidate of the Roots Party of Kenya, who ran a rather unorthodox campaign, targeted at young voters, with frenzied, eccentric mobilization on social media, and what became a high-pitched political movement combined with reggae dancing and talks about the value of marijuana, and hyena testicles.
Wajackoyah’s social media sensation and populism fetched him 61, 969 votes – just about 0.44% of the total votes cast – a grim reminder of the limits of social media populism in the context of elections. The fourth candidate, David Waihiga Mwaure of the Agano Party, almost stood no chance, with 31, 987 votes (0.23%) as this was a tight race between Odinga and Ruto. Kenya’s general election 2022 is probably the most competitive so far in the history of the country. Ahead of the elections at the Presidential, governorship, senatorial, parliamentary and county levels, there were fears that there could an outbreak of violence, similar to the killings in 2007 and 2017. The two leading candidates are old, bitter rivals, forming broad alliances that were meant to give one or the other an advantage: William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza alliance (an alliance of 12 political parties) and Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja. It is a measure of how this particular general election in Kenya is a test of the country’s stability – even now that the result of the Presidential election has been announced, it is somewhat difficult to celebrate a definitive end of the process. The fear of violence, litigation and acrimony hangs in the air, and the fear also, of what is next for Kenya.
Just before the chair of the IEBC, Wafula Chebukati announced the winner, violence erupted at the national tally centre in Bomas, supporters of Mr. Raila Odinga reportedly started throwing chairs and tables. There were gunshots. Diplomats in attendance had to be guided away to safety. Mama Sarah, mother of the President-elect, also had to be quickly evacuated to safety from Bomas. Two electoral commissioners were injured. Meanwhile in another location, Deputy IEBC Chair, Juliana Cherera and three other commissioners rejected the results which they dismissed as “opaque”, and even went further to suggest that the results should be challenged in court, because four of them would not take ownership of it. Thus, 4 out of Kenya’s seven electoral commissioners rejected the outcome of the August 9 Presidential poll. This was a brazen display of partisanship and rebellion on the part of Cherera and her gang. Electoral Commissioners openly taking sides with a political party is a recipe for disaster. Before now, Odinga and his supporters had complained about rigging and mismanagement of the electoral process. IEBC insiders rebelling against their own team lead may have unwittingly set the stage for conflict.
What the law in Kenya says is that if Raila Odinga chooses to challenge the results, he is allowed to do so within seven days by petitioning the Supreme Court which would in turn take a decision within 14 days. If not, the results would stand, but if the results are nullified, fresh elections would be held within 60 days. We can safely assume that Odinga will go to court. Former MP/Prime Minister of Kenya (2008 – 2013), this is his fifth attempt at the presidential seat. This may well be his last chance given his age. Polls before the elections projected him as the winner. His Iron Lady-running mate, Martha Karua was also sure they would win. There is no way they would walk away just like that. There is also the Uhuru Kenyatta factor. The incumbent president has been at logger-heads with his deputy, William Ruto since 2018. In the lead up to this year’s elections, Kenyatta openly backed Odinga and promised to stop his own Deputy from succeeding him.
The declaration of Ruto as winner of the presidential election clearly humbles and humiliates the incumbent and the Odinga coalition. It also postpones the dream of a Luo presidency in Kenya. African political leaders often like to play God, to determine who succeeds them and to impose their will on the people. It is important that the verdict of the people is allowed to prevail. Ruto has told those who opposed him that there is “nothing to fear… there’s no room for vengeance.” The international community must immediately step in to help the people of Kenya manage the new transition. The United Nations, the African Union and all voices of reason must begin to prevail on the leaders of Kenya to give peace a chance. In 2007, more than 1, 200 people died as a result of electoral violence, masterminded at the time by the Mungiki gang. After the 2017 elections, more than 100 people were killed. This time around, the international community must be proactive in ensuring that the elections do not degenerate into another orgy of violence because of the ego of politicians. And in these elections in Kenya the egos in conflict are just too overbearing: beyond the coalitions and the spectre of divisive politics, you have Ruto-Gachagua at one end, opposed with equal fervour by Raila Odinga-Martha Karua. The people must be more important than the gladiators. Kenya’s history of violence must not be allowed to repeat itself, “the hustlers and dynasties” in contention must give the people a chance.
Without much doubt, the 2022 general election was a referendum on the legacy of President Uhuru Kenyatta. He is leaving behind a legacy of high inflation, high unemployment, economic inequality, political corruption, and debt – Kenya’s public debt is more than two-thirds of GDP. Is the average Kenyan better off today than he or she was in 2017? No. Out of a total of 22 million voters, 14 million Kenyans representing about 64.6% turned up to vote in the elections in 47 counties, for 16, 098 candidates contesting 1, 882 positions. Voter turn-out was much higher in 2017 – 78% at the time, but the people are disenchanted with the political elite. Kenya’s next President must give the people hope and rebuild trust in government. Kenya is heavily indebted to China, the country’s entire debt burden of about $70 billion is unsustainable, and to prevent the country becoming another Zambia or Sri Lanka, this must be addressed. The people want food on the table. They want poverty tackled. They want to eat their ugali and mandazi without pain. More importantly they want the high cost of living and taxes reduced. They want peace. Ruto promised the people a “bottom-up economic model”. Ruto would be Kenya’s fifth President since independence. And he has made history. No Deputy President in Kenya has ever succeeded the President. William Ruto will be the first. He is also the second Kalenjin after Daniel Arap Moi’s Vice Presidency and Presidency to lead Kenya.
It is further reassuring to hear that yesterday, he placed a call to Raila Odinga and reportedly told him: “I will be available for us to have a cup of tea because there are areas we can agree on… We agreed that whatever the outcome of this election, we should have a conversation.” The race may have been close, but Ruto won convincingly in critical constituencies such as the Rift Valley, Baringo, Mt. Kenya region where his running mate comes from, Teru, Nyeri and even in President Kenyatta’s Kiambu county where Ruto’s UDA took 11 parliamentary seats! Kenya’s next President has his job cut out for him. He has an obligation to run an inclusive government. It is now time to stop the vitriol and personal attacks. The bitter quarrel with Kenyatta must stop. There is a country to run. Ruto must put his hands to the wheel-barrow and move with it! It is time to rebuild bridges. An openly religious man, he must learn to eschew the politics of hate. There have been celebrations in Murang’a, Kerugoya and Nakuru. And protests in Kibera, and parts of Kondele in Kisumu. The people of Kenya must unite. They will look up to the former “chicken seller”, and self-described “hustler” to lead this country of 50 million people with wisdom, competence and courage.
Whatever happens the day after, the just concluded elections hold some resonance for us in Nigeria as we prepare for our own major elections in 2023. On a positive note, Kenya has done much better this time around in terms of women representation. Half of registered voters in that country are women. Ahead of the elections, there were reports of attacks on women politicians and intimidation and gender-based harassment. But it has now been reported that seven women emerged as Governors in the election out of a total of 47. Six women were also elected as MPs and one as Senator. This is a major improvement since 2017 when in that year, only three women were elected as Governors. In 2010, part of the Constitutional review was the decision codified in law as a two-third rule to encourage women participation in Kenyan politics. There is probably a lesson for us here in Nigeria. To all intents and purposes, Nigerian women constitute half of the voting population but they are structurally and procedurally marginalised in political decision-making processes. Women politicians in countries like Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and South Africa are far ahead of their Nigerian counterparts. Nigeria pays lip service to the politics of inclusion, but what we run is a backward-looking, patriarchal system that confines female politicians to the backyards.
There was much talk about the deployment of technology in Kenya’s election. There was nothing fool-proof about it. Out of the over 46, 000 electronic voter machines that were deployed, over 200 failed. Election was even suspended in at least one county. It took a whole week to get a final tally of results, creating anxiety. The thing to note is that the democratic process in Africa is still a work-in-progress, and many countries on the continent are still learning how to get elections right. Imagine a situation where it takes a whole week to collate election results in Nigeria! I don’t want to imagine what would happen if we were to experience that kind of delay.
What has also been proven in Kenya is the perpetual conflict between incumbents and their deputies. President Kenyatta is definitely not happy that his Deputy has been declared winner. Both of them have been at each other’s throats since 2018. Ruto says he was the architect of Kenyatta’s emergence as President, for while he worked hard and held crucial meetings to make him President, Kenyatta was always busy sleeping. Kenyatta dismisses his Deputy as a “thug” and a “tanga tanga” man; so much pettiness between those two but no one should be under any illusion that one is better than the other. Ruto is as much a product of the establishment as Kenyatta is. He is certainly not a saint. Indeed, without prejudice to already stated expectations, it would be quite a big surprise if he is able to perform any magic as President. In real terms, the transformation that the people of Kenya seek, may not happen under a President Ruto. But to go back to the original point about African Presidents and their Deputies working against each other, Kenya presents yet another classical example.
The myth that the democratic process at Presidential and Gubernatorial levels offers the people two capable hands for the price of one is exactly what it is: a myth. African political leaders are superstitious power mongers and closet monarchs. They can’t tolerate the idea of a Deputy who may become a replacement. We have seen this in many African countries: in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. Most recently, in the party primaries for the 2023 Presidential election, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria did not lift a finger to support his Vice President’s expressed ambition to succeed him. If he did, the outcome of the ruling party’s Presidential primaries could have been different. In 2015, President Ernest Koroma of Sierra Leone sacked his deputy, Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana and expelled him from the party, the All People’s Congress. Sam-Sumana had to seek asylum in the US Embassy in Freetown. In 1995, late President John Jerry Rawlings of Ghana reportedly once kicked his Vice President in the groin, punched him in the face, and tore the shoulder of his jacket at a cabinet meeting!
Going forward, what Kenya needs is peace. The elections were generally considered calm and peaceful. On Monday, the Interfaith Council of Kenya called on Kenyans and their leaders to maintain the peace. The Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri, Anthony Mheria said: “We send peace to Kenyans, our President-elect, and candidates that lost the vote count. May peace rest in their hearts and families.” Christian and Muslim clergy in the Rift Valley have also expressed similar sentiments. May it be well with Kenya…
Reuben Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.