*Opposition: Let’s build our country together
Gunshots sounded through the streets of Nairobi and properties were set alight after Uhuru Kenyatta was declared victor in Kenya’s fiercely-contested presidential elections that the opposition claims was riddled with irregularities.
Mr Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party, who was vying for a second and final term, won with 54.3% of the vote to Raila Odinga’s 44.7%, a margin of 1.4 million votes. The winner was required to pass a threshold of 50 per cent by one vote.
In his acceptance speech, Mr Kenyatta, from the Kikuyu tribe, urged his opponents and their supporters to set aside their differences and come together as one nation after what has been a divisive and bitter campaign.
“To our brothers, our worthy competitors, we are not enemies. Elections come and go, Kenya is here to stay. There is no need for violence.”
In Kibera, where many residents belong to Mr Odinga’s Luo tribe, residents reported screaming and gunfire, which rang out across parts of the city. Rioters were setting fire to Kikuyu properties. Clashes between protesters and police were also being reported in Kisumu in western Kenya, where Mr Odinga enjoys strong support.
International observers and envoys earlier appealed to the losing side to accept defeat amid fears that Mr Odinga, who has repeatedly asserted that the vote was rigged, could incite his supporters to take to the streets in violent protest.
Kenya, East Africa’s most vibrant and developed democracy, has a history of tense and disputed elections, when tribal divisions often manifest themselves into violent unrest. In 2007, flawed elections plunged the country into its most deadly turmoil in decades, with ethnically-motivated attacks leaving more than 1,200 people dead, and some 600,000 displaced.
Tensions started to rise as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) delayed its announcement of results while it scrambled to gather the last remaining vote tally forms from constituencies around the country. A promised announcement three days after the vote took place – was repeatedly postponed and finally delivered at around 10.30 pm.
Speaking a few hours before the official announcement, the opposition Nasa party, whose 72-year-old flagbearer Mr Odinga has claimed he was cheated of victory in 2007 and 2013 elections, said it rejected both the process and the result.
“We raised some very serious concerns, they have not responded to them. As Nasa, we shall not be party to the process they are about to make,” senior opposition official Musalia Mudavadi said.
James Orengo, a senior election agent for the opposition, said the process had been a “charade.”
He added that Kenyans had a history of challenging elections. “The Kenyan people have never disappointed. Every time an election has been stolen, the Kenyan people have stood up to make sure changes are made to make Kenya a better place,” he said.
“Nobody should think that this is the end of the matter,” he added. “Going to court, for us, is not an alternative. We have been there before.“
The opposition’s rejection of the result immediately raised the prospect of an eruption of violence across the country, with Mr Odinga’s supporters convinced that the election was theirs for the taking.
But few predict trouble on the scale of 2007, when the Kalenjin and Kikuyu tribes rose up against each other. Mr Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu elite, and William Ruto of the Kalenjin, subsequently allied with each other in the 2013 elections as they fought charges of orchestrating the violence by the International Criminal Court. The charges were later dropped for lack of evidence – with the two men having denied the charges against them.
Since the preliminary results started trickling out, muted protests have rocked slum areas in Nairobi, and Kisumu, an opposition stronghold in western Kenya, in recent days, with at least three people killed. In Kibera, where poverty-stricken residents live less than half a mile from affluent suburbs, many said they were waiting for the call to action from the opposition leader. As of last night, areas of Nairobi were essentially in lockdown, and patrolled by a heavy security presence.
“The result has not been handled well, and people are worried,” said Kibera resident Michael Okithi, 26. In the event of a Jubilee win, he predicted, “there will be chaos. A lot of people will die.”
This election has been seen as an important test case for the IEBC, heavily tainted in the past by a perception that it was biased towards the ruling party. At the opposition’s instigation, new commissioners were appointed ahead of the 2017 polls. Observers have widely praised the electoral process as the most organised and transparent in the country’s history. More than 40,000 polling stations were equipped with biometric kits, and preliminary figures streamed live on the electoral body’s website.
As the provisional results from Tuesday’s vote gave Mr Kenyatta a commanding lead, Mr Odinga’s Nasa party came out the next day to denounce the election as a “sham” and a “massive fraud,” tying the murder of a senior election official a week before elections to a hack of IEBC servers, and a falsifying of results. It provided no evidence to support its claims.
The IEBC robustly defended itself against the opposition’s allegations, and described claims by the opposition that the IEBC had an alternative tally on its servers as “grossly inaccurate and premature.”
Despite subsequent dismissal of Mr Odinga’s claims, there are concerns about the tallying process. Critical to the transparency of these elections was the scanning of signed forms showing the results at the same time as the tallies were submitted by polling stations to their constituencies by text message. But roughly 11,000 forms were not uploaded, and the IEBC has given no explanation for the apparent break-down in this process, which must be followed by law.
“It creates an impression that some mischief is going on,” said Patrick Gathara, a Nairobi-based political analyst. “That was the whole point of the electronic system. The main problem [in previous elections] was [that] en route from the polling station to the tallying centre, things got changed.”
The international community, which includes an observer mission led by John Kerry, former US Secretary of State, has strongly urged Nasa to take the matter of irregularities down the constitutional route. After a challenge has been filed at the Supreme Court, it has 14 days to rule.
“Violence must never be an option,” US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec said. “No Kenyan should die because of an election. Kenya’s future is more important than any election. Leaders above all need to make that clear.”