On October 10th 2017, Raila Odinga stated that he was withdrawing from the presidential election redo set for October 26th. He cited fears that it would be marred by the same irregularities and illegalities that got the August 8th election result annulled. In doing so, he seemed to grant Uhuru Kenyatta’s wish from the day before for him to step aside if he was not ready or willing to participate. “Kenyans are tired and want to move forward. If you do not want elections, step aside so that the country can move forward,” said Uhuru Kenyatta.
Raila Odinga later called for a boycott of the election by his supporters, as an act of resistance and civil disobedience. He asked Kenyans who value democracy and justice to hold vigil and prayers away from polling stations, or just stay at home. The chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Wafula Chebukati, had earlier made a statement that seemed to suggest he could not guarantee a credible election under prevailing conditions and with a divided commission. Days before, IEBC Commissioner Dr. Roselyn Akombe had resigned from the commission and fled Kenya for the USA (where she is also a citizen) citing fear for her life, as well as an inability to conduct a free, fair and credible election on the IEBC’s part.
Faced with the very real possibility of disruption and violence, a petition was filed before the Supreme Court to postpone the election until the IEBC could guarantee a credible election, only for the case to be adjourned, with apologies from Chief Justice David Maraga, because of a lack of quorum (the bench needs at least five judges to meet quorum). Only two out of seven judges were present when the court convened. Justice Isaac Lenaola was also present. However, Deputy Chief Justice Philomen Mwilu was unable to attend because her driver/bodyguard was shot shortly after dropping her off at home, in what appeared to be a warning shot to her from unknown persons. Justice Njoki Ndung’u was unable to find a flight back to Nairobi (she was out of town), Justice Mohamed Ibrahim was abroad seeking medical treatment, and Justices Smokin Wanjala and Jackton Ojwang simply said they were unable to make it.
As a result, the October 26th election proceeded as planned. With one hitch – most registered voters failed to show up to vote. Official voter turnout was placed at 38.84% by the IEBC, though others claimed it was less than 35% when the total number of registered voters (19,611,423) is used. On August 8th, turnout was 79.51%, meaning that more than half of those who voted saw it fit to boycott this election. Perhaps it was due to Raila Odinga’s call. Perhaps it was due to fatigue and the desire to “move on” to other things. Perhaps it was because it was clear that their votes would not count based on the events described above. Perhaps it was because of fear of police violence.
Whatever the case, Uhuru Kenyatta won 98.27% of the votes (he garnered 7,483,895 out of 7,616,217 valid votes), even though 25 out of 290 constituencies did not participate in the repeat election “because conditions were not conducive to elections” mostly due to protests and violence. As if their voices and votes do not matter, the IEBC decided that it would not hold elections in those constituencies because doing so would not result in a material change to the outcome, which is a second Uhuru Kenyatta presidential term (regardless of its lack of legitimacy).
Which brings us where we are today – with Uhuru Kenyatta’s supposed popularity coming second only to Paul Kagame’s in East Africa (who won Rwanda’s presidency with 98.6% in the 2017 election), followed closely by Hailemariam Desalegn, who became Ethiopia’s prime minister with 94.9% of the vote. It should concern us that we are headed in the direction of East Africa’s more authoritarian regimes.
Both Rwanda and Ethiopia are de facto one party states where political repression is the norm. Both countries persecute journalists for doing their jobs and have experienced a year-on-year reduction of freedom of the press. They are intolerant to any opposition, be it from citizens or opposition political parties. Extrajudicial killings are routine (they have been on the rise in Kenya too), and civil society/NGOs are constantly under attack for “undermining government.” Their work on human/women’s/children’s rights, governance and peace building is interfered with both directly and indirectly, until they are unable to act meaningfully.
They invade their “unstable” neighbours (Rwanda has invaded the DRC, Ethiopia and Kenya have invaded Somalia), because this empowers them in two ways: it allows them to shut down internal opposition by rallying around external enemies, which then provides them with “threats” through which they attempt to legitimize their autocracy both locally and internationally (which is why Paul Kagame/Rwanda is a darling of the people both in Africa and the west, and why Uhuru Kenyatta is poised to join him). Because such leaders tend to come to power through farcical elections that are religiously held despite prevailing circumstances, they appear to be democratic and in line with global institutions and norms. This delicate balance of “democracy” and repression also enables their supporters locally to defend them, yet they do not follow the spirit of their laws/constitution, and occasionally fail to follow its letter. However, unlike Rwanda and Ethiopia, our economy is suffering, our people are getting poorer, and we are on course to kill our public institutions (such as schools and hospitals) because of greed and corruption.
This reads like a reenactment of Daniel Arap Moi’s 24 year presidency. If it sounds worrisome, that’s because it is. We must resist authoritarianism.