Kenya names a new leader, but the conflict may not be over
Although Kenya is frequently praised as an example of African democracy, as the most recent election shown, things are not always ideal. Even prior to a winner being declared, disputes erupted.
Kenya distinguishes out on a continent where military takeovers and rubber-stamp elections have become commonplace recently.
The East African nation and economic powerhouse has steadily developed into a symbol of what is possible, its democracy supported by a strong Constitution, and its hard-fought elections an example to other African countries seeking to forge a path away from autocracy, despite its flaws and pervasive corruption.
But Kenya recently encountered a speed hurdle.
Millions of Kenyans were glued to their televisions and smartphones as the results came in for the country's most recent presidential election, which was finally decided on Monday. The president-elect, William Ruto, smiled as he spoke to a room full of cheering supporters and praised the "very historic, democratic occasion."
However, Raila Odinga, the unsuccessful candidate, disapproved of the decision before it was made public. In the hall where Mr. Ruto was speaking and the votes were being tabulated, a brawl broke out, sending chairs and fists flying. Four electoral commissioners also abruptly left the room, putting uncertainty on a decision that will almost certainly go to court.
Thus, the outcome of the election is in doubt and is being closely watched not just at home but also across the continent, where Kenya's boisterous democracy is one of those that is seen as a sign of advancement.
Mr. Ruto remarked, "We do not have the luxury to look back and we do not have the luxury to point fingers. In order to cooperate, we must tighten ranks.
It began as a hopeful day.
Following a laborious six-day count that had the nation on edge, thousands of people started filing into a large hall in a Nairobi suburb early in the morning to hear the election results.
According to unofficial news media estimates, Mr. Ruto and Mr. Odinga were neck and neck throughout the count, occasionally separated by only 7,000 ballots. Many people were alarmed by those minuscule margins: Kenya is a strong democracy, but its elections may be brutal. The country's last three elections were marred by disputed results that sparked protracted crises, legal cases, and street rioting that claimed over 1,200 lives in 2007.
The electoral commission had taken exceptional measures to guarantee a fair vote after being shamed by earlier failures. Images displaying the results from nearly every polling location—more than 46,000 of them—had been posted to its website within 24 hours of the polls closing on Tuesday night.
However, one of Mr. Odinga's senior advisors called an unexpected news conference outside as Wafula Chebukati, the chief electoral commissioner, was getting ready to declare the result on Monday.
In a barrage of expletives, Saitabao Ole Kanchory told reporters that the election was "the most poorly conducted in Kenya's history" and demanded that those in charge "be imprisoned." He also termed the counting center "a crime scene."
A short while later, chaos broke out inside the hallway.
Mr. Ole Kanchory and other Odinga supporters attacked the dais, hurling chairs on the ground and fighting with security guards brandishing truncheons. Foreign diplomats and election watchers retreated to a backstage area, but a gospel choir that had been singing for much of the day kept on singing.
After things settled down, Mr. Chebukati came out to make a brief address in which he highlighted that two of his commissioners had been hurt in the altercation and that other commissioners had been harassed, "arbitrarily arrested," or gone missing. He then proceeded to declare the results.
He claimed that Mr. Ruto got 50.49 percent of the vote to Mr. Odinga's 48.85 percent, a difference of just 233,211 votes but enough against prevent a runoff.
Mr. Ruto expressed gratitude to his supporters and vowed to work for Kenya's benefit in a speech that seemed to be an attempt to project authority and provide assurance. He made a commitment to put the turbulent scenes from minutes earlier and the campaign's acrimony aside in order to focus on the nation's suffering economy.
With his wife and his running mate, Rigathi Gachagua, by his side, Mr. Ruto declared, "There is no room for retaliation." "To advance our nation, we need all hands on deck at this point. We cannot afford to take a step back.
Eldoret, a bastion for Mr. Ruto in the Rift Valley, was the scene of celebrations, with a loud cacophony of horns, whistles, and chanting filling the downtown area.
However, in many parts of the nation, a significant event eclipsed his victory: In defiance of Mr. Chebukati, four of the seven electoral commissioners refused to confirm the result. They left for a posh hotel where they criticized "the opaque nature" of the counting process.
It then emerged that President Uhuru Kenyatta, Mr. Odinga's most prominent rival in the race, had selected those commissioners. However, due to term restrictions, Kenyatta is not eligible to run for office again.
A few hours later, Mr. Ruto called their declaration a "side show" while speaking to journalists. He claimed that Mr. Chebukati is the only one authorized by Kenyan law to declare the winner.
The four commissioners "represent no threat at all to the legality of the declaration legally or constitutionally," Mr. Ruto added.
The drama nevertheless made it seem possible that a day that ought to have marked the end of the presidential race may instead turn out to be simply another chapter in the gripping contest that has kept Kenyans on the edge of their seats since the election on Tuesday.
The candidates were a contrasted study.
In 1997, Mr. Odinga, a 77-year-old communist from one of Kenya's most illustrious political families, launched his first presidential campaign. Before making another attempt this year, he ran three more times, always falling short.
Even though he had previously held the position of prime minister, Mr. Odinga's electoral losses represented the broader discontent of his ethnic group, the Luo, which has never held the presidency of Kenya since the country's independence from Britain in 1963.
The nation's vice president and wealthy businessman, Mr. Ruto, 55, positioned himself as the savior of Kenya's "hustler nation," or the disillusioned, primarily young strivers battling for a foothold. He frequently informed people about his impoverished upbringing, which included growing up without shoes and starting out by hawking poultry on the side of a busy road.
This portrayal stood in stark contrast to Mr. Ruto's significant riches, which has increased over the course of his political career to include a five-star hotel, thousands of acres of land, and a sizable poultry processing facility.
Some Kenyans responded strongly to the "hustler" pitch, while others simply shrugged. Only 40% of Kenyans under 35 registered to vote in this election, and the turnout of only 65% was significantly lower than the reported turnout of 80% in the previous election.
The low participation looked to be a rejection of the candidates that many believed were chosen by their nation's disgraced political class, who they believed made a poor decision.
Millions of Kenyans voted for Mr. Ruto despite the accusations he once faced at the International Criminal Court, which accused him ten years ago of inciting the riots following the 2007 election that almost brought Kenya to civil war.
The charges included murder, persecution, and evictions, but the case was dismissed in 2016. The Kenyan government, of which Mr. Ruto served as vice president, participated in "witness interference and political intervention," according to the court.
In essence, Mr. Ruto was running against his own boss, Mr. Kenyatta, whom he accused of betraying him by supporting Mr. Odinga.
Voters in Mr. Kenyatta's home region of Mount Kenya, where ethnic Kikuyus rejected all of his supporters, humiliated him by rejecting his preferred successor instead of supporting him. The findings showed that Mr. Ruto won by a wide margin, even at the voting location where Mr. Kenyatta cast his ballot on Tuesday.
The voting on Tuesday took place against a depressing backdrop of crippling economic problems. The economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, has suffered in recent years, first from the coronavirus outbreak and then from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which drove up the price of food and petrol amid a general economic slowdown.
Abzed Osman, an actress who also works in tourism, lamented the rising cost of things as he waited in line to cast his ballot on Tuesday in Kibera, the largest shantytown in Africa.
Witnesses said that on Monday evening, hundreds of protesters who had been excitedly anticipating the results started demonstrating and setting tires on fire in Kisumu County, one of Mr. Odinga's strongholds in western Kenya.
A few hours later, Mr. Odinga's spokesman, Dennis Onsarigo, announced that the candidate intended to address the country on Tuesday.