Kenya’s Supreme Court last week annulled its Aug. 8 elections and ordered new ones to be held within 60 days.
The decision of six judges of the court, announced by its chief justice, David Maraga, was a surprise, not only to Kenyans, but also to the some 400 monitors of the elections, including former Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Observers had deemed the elections acceptably honest, although the major losing candidate, longtime politician Raila Odinga, initiated the court action that brought the decision to re-run the elections.
The judges cited irregularities in the elections, which in their view rendered them unconstitutional. It is unclear whether the problems in question were technical, or involved human fraud, or both.
There were apparent discrepancies between electronic and manual vote tallies. Odinga had been critical of the role of the international monitors, claiming that, in spite of the 1.4 million-vote apparent margin of victory of his rival, the international observers had acted to “sanitize fraud.”
It thus appears that the relief of the Kenyans, who now number 47 million, and of the rest of the world that Kenya had carried out relatively peaceful democratic elections was premature. An estimated 1,000 had died in rioting during and after the 2000 Kenyan elections.
There are potential problems down the road. One is that the rivalry between incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the founding president, a Kikuyu, and Odinga, also the son of an independence-era political figure, a Luo, remains in part tribal, rather than just political. A second problem is that tensions among Kenyans will rise, as an issue that they thought was settled turns out not to be. A third is that presidential elections are expensive.
Kenyans and Africans in general, in light of what are frequently crooked or questionably democratic elections in African countries, should be proud that whatever issues prompted the Supreme Court to rule as it did, the judicial process, with reference to Kenya’s constitution, not only occurred but has been welcomed by Kenyatta.
Kenyans, Americans and the world should now cross their fingers that Kenya gets through the new elections peacefully and correctly, on schedule.