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Why Kenya Is Bracing For More Political Turmoil


After holding two elections within three months, Kenya is no closer to resolving a standoff over who is its rightful leader. President Uhuru Kenyatta was named the winner of the latest balloting Oct. 26. But his opponent, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, calls the vote a sham, and its legitimacy is being challenged in court.

Judges had earlier annulled Kenyatta’s victory in an Aug. 3 vote following complaints of rigging.

The election period has been marred by violence and intimidation that the ruling party and opposition blame on each other.

Protracted turmoil in East Africa’s largest economy would be felt across the region, particularly in landlocked Uganda and Rwanda, which rely heavily on Kenya’s ports and roads to access international markets.

  1. What are the issues with the Oct. 26 vote?

The opposition argues it was held in the absence of sufficient reform of the electoral system in light of the Supreme Court’s annulment of the previous election outcome. A week before the rerun, a top official of the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission, Roselyn Akombe, resigned and fled the country, saying the commission had been compromised and she wouldn’t be party “to such a mockery of electoral integrity.” Odinga, the main opposition leader, withdrew from the rerun and urged a boycott after the commission refused to heed his demands to fire staff and change voting procedures. His name remained on the ballot nonetheless. With turnout just 38.8 percent of voters, compared with 79 percent in August, Kenyatta was declared the winner with 98 percent of the vote.

  1. What’s being challenged in court?

A former lawmaker and two activists have petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the result because violence forced voting to be called off in parts of western Kenya, potentially violating a constitutional requirement for the election to be held in every constituency. However, electoral laws contain a provision that allows for tallies from areas to be excluded if they won’t affect the final result. That rule could be used to uphold the outcome.

  1. What is Kenyatta saying?

While he has lambasted the Supreme Court for overturning his initial victory, he has pledged to abide by its ruling on the validity of the rerun. He accuses Odinga of disrespecting the electoral process by refusing to participate in the repeat vote and has said he’ll only consider dialogue with the opposition once the legal process has run its course.

  1. What’s Odinga’s strategy?

Odinga is leaving it to others to challenge the outcome of the second vote in court. He’s focused instead on energizing what he calls a national resistance campaign of protests and economic boycotts of companies including mobile-phone operator Safaricom Ltd. and Brookside Dairies Ltd., which is part-owned by Kenyatta’s family, with the aim of ensuring yet another election.

  1. How grave is the danger of more violence?

After Odinga alleged rigging in August, his supporters burned tires and barricaded roads in the streets of Nairobi, the capital, and the western city of Kisumu, sparking clashes with the security forces. Renewed protests broke out on Oct. 26 and continued for several days. While human-rights groups say as many as 80 people have died in election-related violence since the initial vote, police say they’ve only recorded 19 deaths. Ethnic unrest that followed a disputed election in 2007 illustrated just how ugly the situation can get: At least 1,100 people died and about 350,000 were forced to flee their homes. The economy also took a hammering, with the growth rate slumping to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier.

  1. How have the markets reacted to the political turmoil?

While the shilling weakened and yields on Kenya’s foreign debt climbed after the court ordered fresh elections, asset prices have partially rebounded since Kenyatta was declared the winner of the rerun — indicating that investors are seeing the beginning of an end to the turmoil. The prolonged uncertainty has curbed consumer spending and investment, prompting Kenya’s National Treasury and International Monetary Fund to pare back their growth forecasts.

  1. What is Kenyatta’s record?

Kenya’s economy has expanded an average of 5.7 percent a year since 2013, when Kenyatta came to power, as the country reaped the benefits of lower energy prices and improved transportation links. Kenyatta’s government has also spurred growth by encouraging the development of the tourism, agriculture, services and manufacturing industries, and made some headway in improving access to education and health care. His opponents accuse him of not doing enough to cushion the poor from a drought and soaring food prices and failing to stamp out widespread corruption. Kenya dropped six places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year, putting it among 30 countries seen as the world’s most corrupt.

  1. What has Odinga promised to do differently?

He made the fight against corruption and poverty the centerpiece of his campaign. His other pledges included introducing measures to assist small-scale businesses and farmers and incentives to manufacturers to help boost export-oriented growth. He also said he’d consider tax cuts to woo foreign investors and scrapping a law imposed by Kenyatta in August that prevents commercial lenders from providing loans at more than four percentage points above the central bank rate.



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