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September 25, 2022 5:57 pm

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Kenya could plunge into political and ethnic crisis after elections

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A legal challenge would plunge Kenya after elections into a period of political instabilityThe situation is likely to deteriorate because this election seems to be the last chance for this rally loser Raila Odinga who ran in fifth for the President. 

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Kenya’s William Samoei Arap Ruto, deputy president of Kenya since 2013, was declared the winner of the August 9 election in the midst of chaotic scenes last witnessed on the eve of the infamous 2007-2008 post-election violence. Ruto, running under the Kenya Kwanza coalition, defeated Raila Odinga of the Azimio coalition by polling 50.49% of the vote against Odinga’s 48.85%. The announcement followed days of confusion over the likely winner. 

Ruto, 55 has served as deputy president for 10 years, but fell out with President Uhuru Kenyatta, who backed Mr Odinga to succeed him.

Ruto was seen as the most prominent opposition leader after being marginalized within the government.

Ruto descends from the third biggest ethnic group, the Kalenjin, which has produced just one other president Daniel Moi, who served for 24 years.


The 2018 rapprochement marked the end of the alliance between president Kenyatta and his deputy president, William Ruto. Together they had won elections against Odinga.

Beyond Kenyatta, Odinga has built a formidable alliance composed of veteran politicians and political heavyweights. So he has political support to object results. Uhuru’s Kikuyu and Ruto’s Kalenjin have dominated the Kenyan presidency and civil service. Kikuyu-Kalenjin dominance has persisted since Independence. Thus, one of the main challenges facing both Odinga and Ruto was to try and secure the vote of the Kikuyu community.

However,  vote-rich Kikuyu community’s opinion was sharply divided over outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to back his one-time rival Raila Odinga, rather than his deputy William Ruto. The presidential contest is effectively a two-horse race between William Ruto, a Kalenjin leader and Deputy President, and Raila Odinga, a chief of the Luo and long-term head of the opposition. 

The ability of William Ruto to mobilize support in Central Kenya demonstrates how an increasingly demanding electorate can promote democratization. However, the ethnicity is still one of major forces in Kenyan political life. Ethnicity will not determine the elections, but it remains integral to how the campaigns are understoodWhile some ethnic groups will divide their vote or vote for leaders from other ethnicities, others – including the Luo and Kalenjin – are unlikely to do so.

ACLED Graphic Kenyan Violence by Ethnic Region 2013


Just before the chair of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission finally announced a Ruto victory, more than half of the members of the commission held an extraordinary press conference in which they spoke of their pride in having raised the standard of elections. But in somewhat contradiction to that, they expressed their unwillingness to endorse the results. They effectively urged Odinga to challenge the outcome in court.

According to the constitution, a petition can be filed at the Supreme Court  – and this could also come from proxies or any other aggrieved parties, rather than just Odinga’s team – to challenge the election within seven days after declaration of the results.

Raila Odinga has already rejected the results of Kenya’s presidential election saying that the figures announced were “null and void”. He has challenged the results in the previous two elections, including successfully in 2017.

If the Supreme Court nullifies the results, a fresh election will then be held within 60 days after the decision. If the petitions are thrown out, the swearing-in will proceed on the first Tuesday, 14 days after announcement of results. The oath-taking and swearing-in will happen seven days after the date on which the court renders a decision.

No doubt he will – though it’s not yet clear what the basis of the challenge would be.

The outcome of a court case is impossible to predict. If the court were to find that the process was flawed, even in a way that would not have changed the outcome, it could overturn the result as it did in 2017. And the election results were clearly close.

Confident statements on social media have bred expectations of victory among supporters of both alliances. There isa risk that frustrations could turn violent. Another risk is that people protesting peacefully, would be met with excess force from the police, as has happened in the past.

There is the fact that the race was very close, and turnout was relatively low. Thus, it may increase incentives to challenge the results.

On the positive side, the example of 2017, when the courts annulled the first-round Presidential results, underlines that there is a viable, peaceful avenue for investigating claims of malfeasance.

Unless courts are able to find evidence of rigging on a truly vast scale, Odinga’s people have some uncomfortable facts to face. Despite the support of the outgoing president, Uhuru Kenyatta, it seems that they failed to win over central Kenya. In regions that have previously turned out strongly for Odinga, some voters seem to have simply stayed at home this year. So Odinga’s association with the incumbent may not have been an advantage.

So far, the public mood this time has been patient and calmProbably, it will not remain so through any court process.

Meanwhile, the fall in turnout – the first since 2002 – suggests many Kenyans are, in any event, sceptical of whether either candidate will deliver on their manifesto commitments.

Ruto will almost certainly have to defend his win in court. But if he succeeds there, his bigger challenge will be to deliver the economic change he has promised to Kenyans.

He faces an economy with rising debt challenges, job losses from the pandemic, and rising fuel and food.

Ruto has pledged to boost tax revenues to service the country’s almost $70bn debt and rules out a restructuring.

He has launched plans to mobilise taxes through digitisation which prices he says will more than double VAT collection to 8% of GDP from 3.6%.

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