The election period in East Africa started in February last year with elections in Somalia, then continued with Rwanda, which have been clear from the very beginning, and ended in 2017 with an appraisal and an agonizing selection process in Kenya.
Kenya’s has been more than a serious democracy test in the multi-party political life that has been ongoing since the 1990s. Approximately 20 million voters went to the polls twice in the last four months to choose the leaders they believe will lead Kenya to sustainable economic growth and development.
The debut of Kenya’s election transpired during the pre-independence period in 1963. Then, there were only two key players, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) and the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). In 1966, there was a little general election to neutralize then Vice President Oginga Odinga and Cabinet Minister Tom Mboya. President Jomo Kenyatta was uneasy with their hopes to succeed him, as it was against his will.
The premiere post-independence election took place in 1969. During this election, Kenya became a de-facto one-party state. The year 1974 saw the second post-independence elections. The economy of the country was at stake then. Initiation of secret ballot voting debuted. Initially, it used the Mlolongo system. The elections also saw the amendment of the law for the minimum age of 18 for voters.
The deteriorating health of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta advocated for a change to the constitution to enable the renunciation of the vice president to assume power upon the death of the president. Thus, Vice President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi took over as president after the death of Kenyatta on Aug. 22, 1978.
The third post-independence election saw the candidacy of Moi with KANU. Other polls that transpired after independence took place in 1983, 1988, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2013 and 2017. Violence marred the 2007 election. Raila Odinga came second after commanding a higher lead and garnering 44 percent of the total vote, while President Mwai Kibaki enjoyed 47 percent. The 2013 election was the first under the new constitution of Kenya, which was declared Aug. 27, 2010, after approval by Kenyan voters in a referendum on Aug. 4, 2010.
A repeat of history was anticipated in the recently concluded elections in Kenya in the battle between the Kenyatta and Odinga families. Odinga is on record as vying in 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2017, but has always failed to clinch the position. Kenyatta, on the other hand, made his first attempt at the presidency in 2002, but came second. He won in 2013 as well as in 2017. The replica was visible in the 2013 election in which Kenyatta’s son won. General elections held on Aug. 8 were the second under the new constitution championed by Raila Odinga. The electoral and boundary commission declared Uhuru Kenyatta the winner with 54 percent. Odinga came second with 44.94 percent.
National Super Alliance (NASA) flag bearer Odinga filed a petition with the Supreme Court on Aug. 18, 2017, seeking nullification of the presidential election. Addressing a press conference, Odinga said that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) system was hacked and urged Kenyans to reject the results. The IEBC responded to his claim by saying that the portal had “fake” results after validating forms 34A and 34B. Miscommunication was evident between Chairman Chebukati and Commission CEO Ezra Chiloba. The chair confirmed to the public that there were attempts to hack the electoral system, while the CEO was categorical that there were no attempts, something that tainted the validity of the election.
Subsequently, the Supreme Court on Sept. 1, 2017, annulled the presidential elections, deeming them to have illegalities and irregularities, yet finding no one guilty. The Supreme Court ordered new elections within 60 days. The IEBC announced the new date for the repeat poll on Oct. 17. The opposition’s objection prompted the IEBC to change it to Oct. 26, 2017. The election nullification made Kenya feature in the world’s limelight. Kenya became the fourth country in the world and the first in Africa to annul a presidential election, joining the likes of the Maldives, Austria and Ukraine.
Odinga’s announcement on Oct. 10, 2017, left many in a state of limbo. He withdrew from the repeat poll, citing the IEBC’s failure to conform to their minimum. The coalition advocated for the resignation of some officers on the electoral commission, including CEO Chiloba. NASA also claimed that amendment of electoral laws by Jubilee in its favor concerning the repeat elections was tantamount to a replay of the Aug. 8, 2017, election. Thus, NASA declared demonstrations across the country, beginning Oct. 11, 2017.
NASA has since advised its supporters to shun using products from individual companies, including Brookside Dairies and their subsidiaries, BIDCO Africa and Safaricom Ltd. for a non-specified time. The objective of the boycott is to break the backbone of the economy, depriving taxes to the national government to weaken the government’s operations.
This election actually showed and offered an opportunity to understand the chronic problems of land and income distribution in Kenya over half a century, institutionalized corruption, inequality and a socioeconomic system that creates violence. However, this opportunity was often plagiarized by narrow-choice analyses, with the tribal intentions of an orientalist and Western-centered viewpoint, and an African country reduced to ethnic tensions.
The election aftermath in Kenya has it stuck in a rut. The visibility of this is that a certain percentage of citizens wanted to settle at the status quo. The orchestration of cynicism is currently underway where bad things are embraced or else seen as usual. The evidence is obtainable from statements such as that there is nothing doable about election reforms since it’s something that has been happening for years. On the other side, others are calling for acceptance and moving forward. The last category consists of those who criticize and say to those advocating election reforms that they are not the first to think that they will change the system.
The keynote for Kenyans at this critical point is to note that small missteps are the recipe for failed states. It is never too late for Kenya to avoid this menace, but with the prevalence of truth, little things need to be changed before big ones follow suit. Generally, it is illogical that Kenyans complain about a system they have benefitted from, and a case study is the recently concluded October elections. It is now time to frown on rude behavior and advocate for ethical practices.
It is time for Kenya to clean up the mess in its systems and institutions and aspire to change, instead of adopting the self-defeating notion of accepting and moving on. Indeed, positive change is inevitable, and so should it be in action.
* M.A. at SOAS, University of London in African Studies and works for TRT World