The Circus That is Kenya

The laughingstock of "democracy"

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kenya presidential election violence

NAIROBI — Kenya, an East African country, and an economic, political, and technological hub in the region, spent the entirety of last year trying desperately to reach new heights in their political ineptitude. It would seem Kenya’s government is incapable of conducting a presidential election that isn’t fraught with crime, violence and downright entertaining political gaffes.

After several months of back and forth between the ruling party, Kenya Africa National Union, and the opposition party, known as NASA (Seriously), regarding technical aspects of electoral matters including how exactly ballot papers should be printed and on what material, Kenya finally conducted its general elections on August 8, 2017, which NASA fiercely contested. They took their grievances to the Supreme Court of Kenya, which deals with matters pertaining to presidential elections disputes. Much to the opposition’s delight, the Supreme Court nullified the presidential elections, citing “irregularities” and alleged “illegalities” during the voting process, although the court declined to expound on what exactly those supposed illegalities were. This was the first ruling of its kind in Africa, and most of the modern world, where a court nullifies the results of a presidential election.

The Supreme Court essentially called for a “mulligan,” by ordering a second presidential election be held, giving the constitutionally-mandated body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the chance to redeem itself by conducting another election without any fraud or discrepancies.

Although Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, accepted the court’s verdict, what followed was a political attack on the Supreme Court by Kenyatta’s administration, which left many questions unanswered regarding the authority of Kenya’s Courts. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, on the other hand, demanded resignation of key individuals in the IEBC before conducting round two of the presidential elections on October 26, 2017. KANU, similarly, took a hard line stance, threatening to enact new electoral laws in the country prior to the upcoming election.

kenya elections
A NASA supporter wears a poster of President Kenyatta (The Star, Kenya)

Both the ruling party and the opposition outlined their ultimatums the IEBC had to concede to before conducting the October 26 election. The opposition threatened not to participate in the election at all if the IEBC did not immediately comply with their demands, which included several senior IEBC staff step down and be replaced by NASA appointees.

The IEBC decided negotiation was pointless and refused to comply with said demands. Dozens were wounded or killed across the nation as angry Kenyans lost faith in their democratic process, and clashed violently with police in response. Only one week prior to the vote, an election commissioner fled the country, citing threats to her life, and resigned. The chairman of the commission said political interference by both parties threatened the credibility of the vote. And on the eve of the election, the Supreme Court was unable to hear a last-minute challenge over the process, because too few judges managed to show up to the proceeding.

True to his word, Odinga did not take part in the October 26 presidential elections, which President Kenyatta won by an underwhelming landslide, considering he essentially ran unopposed, due to Odinga’s bold strategy of not participating. Even though this do-over election was equally disputed, this time the Supreme Court upheld President Kenyatta’s victory, despite voting not taking place in some constituencies in the country, due to poor organization, miscommunication and utility blackouts.

Following the Supreme Court’s validation of President Kenyatta’s reelection, Odinga publicly threatened to show up to the official swearing in ceremony and take the oath of office as the president of the Republic of Kenya, despite not participating in the repeat elections. Kenyatta called him on his bluff, however, as Kenyan military forces and police were present at the ceremony waiting for Odinga, who, anti-climatically failed to make good on his threat. Kenyatta officially took the oath of office as the President of the Republic of Kenya on November 28, 2017.

Fast forward to January 30, 2018, while most Kenyans were trying to readjust, following a long year of being the world’s laughingstock, Odinga swore himself in as Kenya’s president, an act that remains controversial not only in Kenya, but also around the world. Thousands of his supporters attended the event, despite a government warning that it amounted to treason. The authorities shut down TV stations, detained reporters and jammed radio broadcasts to prevent live coverage of the event.

The Kenyan government declared Odinga’s unauthorized oath-taking ceremony an illegal activity, and has since arrested several politicians who participated in the process, including deporting one of NASA’s senior officials to Canada. Political tensions remain high in Kenya, with religious elders and business leaders calling for dialogue between President Kenyatta and “President” Odinga. Whereas the Kenyan government maintains that it does not intend to negotiate political positions in the country, NASA and Odinga are pushing for a third round of elections, and inciting more violent protests to leverage their position. What a circus, time to grab some popcorn.

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