The electoral landslide recorded by President Uhuru Kenyatta in last week’s presidential election re-run is hardly surprising, considering the absence of a competitor. While we congratulate President Kenyatta on his victory, we are obliged to also say that he has a tough job ahead. He has to unite the country, listen to the opposition, allay the fears of opponents and demonstrate that his victory is not a zero sum game.
This is probably not the best outcome Kenyans had hoped for. They never envisaged the boycott by Raila Odinga’s NASA and the harsh rhetoric presaging the re-run. An election boycott has never been a good option in a democracy. It has now created tension in the country. But, a winner has emerged through the electoral process. We urge Kenyans to respect the outcome of the poll without prejudice to any legal challenges that may arise regarding its conduct.
We had expected that Odinga’s victory at the Supreme Court would serve to strengthen the faith of Kenyans in the system and reassure candidates and their supporters that they have a remedy against electoral malpractices and misconduct. The objections of Mr. Odinga and the issues he raised against the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC), given the context and the time frame permitted by the electoral calendar, sounded unreasonable to most fair-minded observers. The threats of a boycott depressed the electorate and created anxiety that the country was about to be plunged, once again, into political and social upheaval.
In the past few days, Odinga’s call for a People’s Assembly and his promise to keep the country in perpetual turmoil by trying to delegitimize the election and, in effect, the government of President Kenyatta, cannot bode well for peace in Kenya. It can only be a step backward and another leap into the unknown.
Raila Odinga is an experienced man who also knows the law and must lead his teeming supporters through the path of peace and constitutionality, which he started on when he went to court to challenge the election of October 8. He must know that all eyes are on him to do the right thing. He has a responsibility not to do anything that could plunge the country into chaos or say things that could lead to a breakdown of law and order.
Already, the United States and the European Union have observed that his “growing list of political demands, inflammatory rhetoric and boycott threats” had undermined the IEBC’s ability to organise a new election. This is not his first experience in electoral loss, and he is knowledgeable and patriotic enough to know that the peace of Kenya ought to take primacy over the political ambition of an individual. Mr. Odinga was expected to seize the opportunity afforded him by the Supreme Court to galvanize his supporters and work harder to sell his programmes to them, to get more votes than he did in the October 8 election. Instead, he seems bent on exploiting the ethnic fault lines of the country to cause chaos and make Kenya ungovernable. We had expected him at this stage of his political career to have gone through a natural transformation from an ethnic champion to a Kenyan statesman.
We urge Mr. Odinga to borrow a leaf from former American president, Jimmy Carter, who lost a presidential election 37 years ago, but has gone on to become more famous and more productive than any other American President. Mr. Odinga can still serve his people, perhaps, even more effectively, outside the office of the president of Kenya.
We appeal to President Kenyatta to realise the sensitivity of this period. He has been forthcoming by expressing his readiness to negotiate with the opposition. He knows that this is a time for compromise and reconciliation. Kenyans have demonstrated in the past that democracy can work in Africa, and we have no doubt that they will rise beyond narrow partisan and ethnic interests once more and do what is in the overall interest of their country.