NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE AUGUST 9, 2022 KENYAN ELECTIONS
By: Bubu Klinogo, a Journalist.
On Tuesday, August 9, 2022, Kenyans went to the polls to elect a new President, members of the National Assembly and Senate, County Governors and Members of the 47 County Assemblies. This was in keeping with the Kenyan Constitution, which requires that a general election of members of Parliament be held on the second Tuesday of August, in every fifth year. Last Tuesday’s election was the third general election and the fourth Presidential, since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya. The country has had a not too good history with elections in times past. In 2007, post electoral violence led to the death of more than one thousand citizens and in 2017, more than one hundred people lost their lives and the Supreme Court had to nullify the Presidential results and ordered a re-run. The incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta who is in his second five-year term was not eligible for re-election. Ordinarily, President Uhuru Kenyatta should be supporting William Ruto, who has been his Deputy for the past 10 years, however he rather chose to support his onetime foe and former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga. That set the stage for a two horse race between William Ruto and Raila Odinga, even though two other candidates were contesting.
To win a Presidential election in the first round in Kenya, the candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the votes nationally, and 25 percent of the votes in at least 24 of the 47 Counties. If not, a second round is held between the top two candidates, in which the candidate with the most votes wins. There were a lot of dynamics going into last Tuesday’s election. The families of incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga have dominated Kenyan politics since independence in 1963. Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta was the first President and his Vice happened to be Raila Odinga’s father. Moreover, Kenya has traditionally been ruled by President’s who belong to either the Kikuyu tribe – like Kenyatta and Kibaki , the Kalenjin tribe, like Daniel Arap Moi and Ruto himself. The victory of Odinga, a Luo, would have marked a departure for the country, which has 44 ethnic groups. Mr. Ruto had however successfully framed the election as between “hustlers” meaning poor Kenyans – and “dynasties” referring to influential families like the Kenyattas and Odingas who have been big players in the country’s politics since independence.
Unlike previous elections, the campaigns were dominated by issues, such as how to address the cost of living, fix the economy and fight corruption. These was not at the same level of mobilising ethnic votes as seen in previous elections. This was probably because none of the candidates is from the predominant Kikuyu tribe and the two leading candidates chose their running mates from there. The law gives the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission, made up of seven Members up to seven days after elections to declare the Presidential results. So on Monday, August 15, the Commission declared Mr. Ruto as having won with 50.49 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating Raila Odinga, who was contesting his fifth election. The results announcement was delayed for more than two hours past the constitutional deadline and the country’s Electoral Commission was split, after four officials disowned the commission’s chairman, Wafula Chebukati’s results. The opposing officials staged a press conference of their own at another venue disputing the official results. The IEBC’s vice chairperson, Juliana Cherera was among those who disagreed with the results, but provided no evidence of irregularities. The national tallying center briefly descended into chaos shortly after Odinga’s Coalition rejected the results, with fighting breaking out and chairs being thrown about in the building. As to be expected there was a divided response to the Presidential election results. In Eldoret, live pictures from Ruto’s hometown showed large crowds celebrating and cheering his win. But in Kisumu, Odinga’s stronghold, protests erupted. Live images showed scores protesting the election results, tires on fire and smoke billowing into the air. Odinga’s running mate Martha Karua also took to Twitter following the results announcement and said: “It is not over till it is over. This is not surprising, because analysts had predicted a win for Odinga, given his performance in opinion polls and the support he enjoyed from outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta. But Ruto’s populist “man-of-the-people” approach, which rejected political dynasties and played on anti-elite sentiment in the country, endeared him to voters. President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was backing Mr Odinga to succeed him after completing two terms, has not been seen in public or made any comments since election day on 9th August.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Ruto called for unity, saying he wanted to be a President for all and for the country to focus on the future. Analysts believe, that Mr. Odinga is likely to challenge the result. The Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the last election in 2017 and ordered a re-run. It might have to make another big decision in a few weeks. Until then, Mr Ruto, a former Teacher who holds a Doctorate in Plant Ecology from the University of Nairobi, has pledged to prioritize Kenya’s economy and “uplift ordinary citizens” as President. He will come under pressure to provide solutions to Kenya’s pressing economic problems, including growing debt, high food and fuel prices, and mass youth unemployment.
Both Ghana and Kenya have useful lessons to learn from each other towards reforms in their electoral processes. Kenya must for instance take another look at the long waiting period before the final results are declared. The seven days is just too long and creates too much anxiety and tension. The sorting and counting of the ballots must be done at the polling stations in the full glare of the public. The open disagreements shown by members of the Electoral Commission does not engender confidence in the final results declared and it can be a catalyst for dispute and violence. The Commission must speak with one voice and where and when there are disagreements among members, those must be settled before the declaration. Ghana must also learn from Kenya in respect of how the Chairperson and members of the Electoral Commission are chosen. Again we can also take a cue from the threshold a candidate needs to meet in order to be declared winner of a Presidential election in round one. The requirement to win a certain percentage of votes in a number of regions is worth emulating.