from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – FIERCELY contested polls have either reinforced or diminished Kenya’s status as East Africa’s most vibrant democracy.
That depends on which side of the fence you are on.
The regional powerhouse is apprehensive as the process to announce its fifth president lurches into pandemonium, pitting the two camps each with a firm chance of succeeding Uhuru Kenyatta.
The nation of 56 million people is emerging from a chaotic weekend in which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) raced against time to announce the winner.
The wait continues.
In a country that is lauded for its democracy, has a propensity of losing it during elections.
William Ruto, Kenyatta’s deputy president in government but a foe in the elections, and ex-Prime Minister in the unity government, Raila Odinga, are the front runners.
Kenyatta, ineligible because of term limits, has endorsed Odinga.
Unofficial tallies place either leader – Ruto and Odinga- in control of the race.
The rivalry of the pair’s coalitions, Kenya Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja, respectively, spilled into the national tallying centre at the Bomas of Kenya.
Located 18 kilometres southwest of the capital Nairobi, the Bomas is a prime tourist area. It has been anything but hospitable lately as agents from the parties engage in scuffles amid accusations the tallying exercise is compromised.
Calm was restored on Sunday evening as IEBC’s tallying of the presidential votes continued at snail pace.
Security is watertight at the centre, with no unauthorised individuals allowed.
Prior, anti-riot police stepped in to quell the inter-party scuffles that were scuttling the verification of presidential votes.
An unspecified number of people were arrested after disrupting election counting for the Narok governorship poll on Sunday.
On that day, 14 of Kenya’s largest civil society organisations warned that a protracted contentious post-election period would increase social tension if left unchecked, would trigger violence and displacement.
“It will overturn the gains made this far in reconciling and creating a cohesive nation,” the civil society organisations stated.
They are wary violence would reverse post-COVID economic recovery and reduce investor confidence in the region’s biggest economy.
“We urge the rest of the nation to swiftly move past the electioneering period,” they stated.
The organisations stated that for the first time, women will govern seven county governments, up from three.
At least 74 women have been elected as Members of the National Assembly.
“These are great strides in the continued quest for gender equality in political representation,” the organisations stated.
Political maturity has also prevailed as many candidates gracefully concede defeat and pledged to work with the winners.
Among these, defeated candidate, Polycarp Igathe, was gracious in defeat by incoming governor of Nairobi, Johnson Sakaja.
“You were a worthy opponent and a true embodiment of Siasa Safi (pure politics). Let’s have coffee soon,” Sakaja invited.
Irũngũ Houghton, Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director, expressed mixed feelings over the poll.
He lamented as most appalling the alleged murder of an aide of a rival by Kimilili MP-elect, Didymus Barasa, as well as the alleged sexual abuse of National Youth Service officer by a police officer.
Reportedly, women candidates and supporters were verbally or physically assaulted across 200 polling stations.
Electoral Commission officials were disrupted or attacked at some counties and tallying centres.
An unspecified number of election offenders have been arrested in over 100 incidents.
Houghton believes one of the most remarkable features of the election has been the IEBC open portal that has allowed party agents, monitors and election enthusiasts to analyse the critical 34A and 34B forms.
“While not foolproof, this has brought a higher standard of transparency and reduced the scope for mischief, rigging claims and post-election violence,” he said.
Yet candidates and supporters have chosen to post false results and misleading information on social media.
The lowest voter turnout in 15 years is also cause for concern.
Some 65 percent of the over 22 million that registered exercised their right.
The Mkenya Daima, a multi-stakeholder platform committed to inspiring peaceful elections and a smooth leadership transition, said despite some challenges that have been documented and acknowledged by IEBC around voting and the ongoing tallying exercise, Kenya’s democracy is growing and maturing.
It alluded to the peaceful and transparent conduct of the elections.
“We encourage all Kenyans to continue taking up their responsibility of keeping peace and calmness in the country,” Mkenya Daima stated.
Every presidential election outcome since 2002 has been contested. The latest exercise is reminiscent of the 2007 poll when Odinga disputed the poll outcome that retained Mwai Kibaki (now late).
Courts annulled the 2017 exercise over vote rigging revelations but Kenyatta won the rerun poll after Odinga pulled out, partly citing bias by the electoral body.
Archbishop Anthony Muheria, chairperson of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), urged the country to build a democracy encouraging competitive politics.
“Unsuccessful candidates should not be treated like losers but as Kenyans who have done their part in expanding our democratic space,” he stated.
– CAJ News