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  • Schuyler Beltrami

Amid Chaos and Disagreements Kenya Elects New President

The largest economy in East Africa, Kenya, announced the result of their presidential election yesterday. William Ruto, 55, was announced by the central Electoral Commission to have prevailed in the Presidential elections which took place last week. Mr. Ruto overcame the strong endorsements of his primary opponent to win the close election by only about 2%. Now the main task of the President-Elect is to convince all Kenyans that the announced result was the true result.

President-Elect Ruto (Photo: Wikipedia)

Becoming President by a Margin of 2%

Approximately 14 million people went to the polls last week in Kenya to elect a new President. In the end, it was the vote of about 200,000 of them which made the difference. William Ruto, leader of the newly founded political alliance, the Kenya First Party (KKP), was declared the winner of the extremely close elections in Africa’s seventh largest country. The new alliance, of which Mr. Ruto’s home party, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA)is a part, includes parties from nearly all sides of the political spectrum, from Communism to social Conservatism. The alliance was founded as a way to balance the other main political alliance in the country, Azimio la Umoja (Resolution for Unity), which is headed unofficially by Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent President who was unable to run for a third term due to constitutional restrictions. Mr. Ruto’s opponent in the election was Raila Odinga, leader of the Azimio coalition, who was attempting to become President for the fifth time. Odinga, 77, was officially endorsed by the incumbent President Kenyatta and had the backing of many within the government, including the powerful Kenyatta family. The patriarch of the family, Jomo Kenyatta, was the first President of Kenya when the country gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1963. Mr. Odinga has a long history as a politician, serving in the Kenyan Parliament, in a number of cabinet positions as well as a liaison representative to the African Union as High Representative for Infrastructure Development in the region. President-Elect Ruto, despite being more than 20 years younger than Odinga, also has had a long history in the Kenyan Government, last serving as Deputy President under Uhuru Kenyatta. Late in his term as Deputy President, the relationship between Ruto and Kenyatta shattered, causing the incumbent to officially endorse Mr. Ruto’s opponent in the election. Parts of this split between Ruto and Kenyatta formed a central campaign doctrine for Ruto, who railed against political dynasties and made class divisions into a centerpiece of his campaign.

Disagreements over Final Result Stirs up Violence

After the elections were held last week, it took the Electoral Commission until Monday to announce a final result, a result which was far from unanimous. The Electoral Commission, which is made up of seven members, announced that Ruto had won the election by around 2%. A winning candidate must earn 50% + one vote in order to be announced as the winner without a run-off. Mr. Ruto’s final vote tally of 50.49% just barely satisfied this requirement. Not only within the country, but within the Electoral Commission itself there were doubts about the final tally. Deputy Chairwoman Juliana Cherera told the gathered media that she and three other members of the Commission disavowed the results, saying “We are not able to take ownership of the results that will be announced, because of the opaque nature of this last phase of the general election.” This came just minutes before the official results were announced by the Commission’s Chairman Wafula Chebukati. The Committee was the victim of violent outbursts on the day the results were read, with Mr. Chebukati telling the media that two members of the Commission as well as the Commission’s Chief Executive were all injured in violent attacks and were being treated in hospitals in the area. This is not the first time that Kenya’s elections have been marred by violence. Nationwide violence erupted after the 2007 elections and led to more than 1200 people being killed. On the day the results were announced, the slums around the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, an area which is a stronghold for support of the losing candidate, Odinga, descended into violence. The UN urged calm in the country and pushed both sides to reconcile their differences about the final vote count through legal means, and not through street violence. Members of Mr. Odinga’s campaign team refused to acknowledge the result of the election with one member tweeting “it is not over until it is over” and another telling media in the country that they would hold the Electoral Commission accountable to deliver on their purpose of offering the people of Kenya a “free, fair, and credible” election. Meanwhile, supporters of Mr. Ruto were excited at the news that he had won the election. Speaking to the international news agency Reuters, Kenneth Kibitok, a 25-year old supporter of the President-Elect said that “[Ruto] is about the bottom up. People from down there will be up here. We are very happy and I believe in the leader who was selected.”

President-Elect will have Challenges from Day One

Once the final result is accepted from both sides, President-Elect Ruto will have many challenges to face from day one, not only in legitimizing his administration. Debt levels in the country have reached historic highs, food prices have soared due to the war in Ukraine as well as global shipping issues and the worst drought in 40 years has severely limited food production in the country’s arable north further increasing the food scarcity problem. The issue has become so pervasive that more than 4 million Kenyans now rely on international food aid to feed themselves; representing around 7.5% of the country. These issues, combined with existing ethnic and religious conflicts as well as the permanent threat of insurgencies from the Islamic Jihadist group Al-Shabaab which is headquartered in the northern bordering nation of Somalia, has created a chaotic situation in the country. Despite these issues, Kenya sees itself as a regional power in the region, which includes unstable states like Somalia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and as a country which can become a hub for high-tech business, especially in the banking sector. In order to face these issues, supporters of the President-Elect hope that moving on from the political dynasties of the past can assist in creating a Kenya, which can take its place in a rapidly modernizing Africa.

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