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Raila Odinga Weighs in on Disputed Kenyan Presidential Election

By Carrie Snurr

In September, the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled the country’s August presidential election results and ordered a rerun of the presidential election.

Raila Odinga, running in opposition to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, contested the August election in the Supreme Court and then withdrew from the second election in early October. Kenyatta won the first election with about 54 percent of the vote and the second election with 98 percent.

On Nov. 9, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Odinga explained why he withdrew from the election rerun and offered his perspective on the state of Kenyan elections, calling the last three elections rigged in his opening remarks.

“In the aftermath of that election and of the SUpreme Court ordered rerun of the presidential election Kenya is in political disarray,” Mark Bellamy, senior adviser in CSIS’ Africa Program, said. “A sizable part of Kenya, perhaps half of Kenya does not accept the legitimacy of the presidential rerun. Pressure is growing in Kenya and internationally to get beyond this cycle of protested elections.”

Matt Bellamy CSIS Kenya Raila Odinga
Matt Bellamy, senior adviser for CSIS' Africa Program, delivers opening remarks and introduces Raila Odinga who lost in Kenya's 2017 protested elections. (Photo: CSIS)

Calls for Kenyans to move on from the elections without addressing the problem of the protested results could make the problem worse. Kenyans are as divided on party lines as they were during election violence in 2008, Bellamy said.

In 2008, Odinga ran against then president Mwai Kibaki. Odinga’s supporters decried the elections, claiming there was manipulation of votes. Ethnic violence in the country spiked and protesters were shot by police, sometimes while news cameras were rolling.

“What is not in doubt is that this presidential election, like the elections in 213 and 2008, failed to deliver a credible enough result to the Kenyan people,” Bellamy said. “Going forward, big questions loom about the future of Kenya’s democracy. How does Kenya exit this crisis without falling into the trap of simply moving on?”

Kenya has stood out in Africa because of its relative stability and focus on democracy, Odinga and Bellamy both said. It has had a strategic role in African leadership because of that stability, Odinga said.

Raila Odinga Kenya 2017 Elections CSIS
TRaila Odinga explains why he does not think the election crisis in Kenya is just an election crisis but an issue of future democracy in the country. (Photo: CSIS)

“The world must not be deceived that this is merely an ‘electoral’ crisis triggered by the third straight rigged election,” Odinga said. “The crisis is all-encompassing and has resulted from the attempt to unlawfully hold onto power. It threatens to undo everything we have achieved, tearing apart our democratic and interethnic fabric.”

He added the Jubilee party in the country has attacked institutions that ensure the fairness of Kenyan elections, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and Kenya’s Supreme Court.

“Let me be blunt. Kenya is hurtling towards outright dictatorship,” he said. “The Jubilee government has ridden roughshod over or looted every institution that they could in order to achieve their goal of long-term control of the state, or at least till their self-declared goal of ruling till at least 2032.”

He criticized the international community for turning a blind eye to the 2017 elections. During elections in the 1990’s and during the violence in 2007 and 2008, countries such as the United States offered an outpouring of support but have remained largely silent regarding the most recent election, Odinga said.

The chairman of the election commission, Wafula Chebukati, stated that the commission could not guarantee the election rerun would be free and open because of political pressures. But, two days later, western envoys declared they believed the commission could hold free elections. He said it was a move that stunned Kenyans.

Matt Bellamy CSIS Kenya Raila Odinga
Bellamy and Raila agreed that "just getting over" the election would not solve the problems that Kenya faces and would likely exacerbate those problems. (Photo: CSIS)

“But I am convinced all is not lost yet,” Odinga said. “What Kenyans are asking is something small – a fresh, credible election. Numerous independent institutions, as well as international media previously supportive of Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, had strongly opposed the holding of that election.”

He expressed hope that the United States and other countries were showing signs of support of Odinga and Kenyans who protested the elections. He pointed to the U.S.’ refusal to congratulate Kenyatta after the electoral commission declared him the winner of the rerun.

He also used U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley’s recent visit to South Sudan and condemnation of that country’s government. It showed the U.S. is willing to change its policy if the depth of a crisis becomes obvious, he said.

Haley warned the president of South Sudan that the U.S. would consider withdrawing financial support to the country if it does not address hate and violence after a recent visit. Millions of civilians have been displaced in South Sudan due to political violence between soldiers loyal to the president and forces loyal to his ousted vice president.

“A solution must be found in Kenya soon,” Odinga said. “Each day this crisis continues, the divisions, polarization and radicalization deepen. The killings of scores of unarmed protesters by police, including infants and children shot inside their homes, and the severe financial hardships being inflicted upon millions by the currently paralyzed economy, are adding to the tinder.”

“Both the regime and our traditional partners must retrace their steps and accept that the current state of affairs endangers the nation, the region and the security and stability of the entire free


Carrie Snurr is an editorial intern for The Washington Diplomat.




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