Causes and Consequences of Kenya’s Election Annulment

On August 8, 2017, an election to determine the next president of Kenya was conducted – only to be annulled by their Supreme Court on September 1st and rescheduled for October 17th. It was especially surprising considering all the measures that were taken to ensure the integrity of the voting process – Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundary Committee increased staff training and added special security measures, including the enlistment of three separate tech companies to certify the validity of votes and the use of special presidential ballot paper with watermarks and anti-copy patterns. So how is it possible that after all of these cautious efforts, there will still be another vote for president? Well, at the request of August 8th’s losing candidate, Raila Odinga, the Kenyan Supreme Court decided in a 4-2 vote that the election was unconstitutional. On September 20th, the reason as to why the election was annulled was addressed by Chief Justice David Maraga, who stated, “The discrepancies were widespread. These discrepancies affected the integrity of the election.” As the BBC and Washington Post report, results from more than 11,000 polling stations were not received, some ballots did not have security features, and the electoral commission refused the court order that would allow scrutiny of its computer servers, all of which led to the September 1st decision to annul the outcome of the election.

Beyond the annulment of this vote, there are many ongoing complexities included in the issue of the 2017 Kenyan Election. First is the violence that ensued after the election. The Human Rights Watch has been closely monitoring the violence that occurred before, during, and after the event with reports determining it was “marred by serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings and beatings by police during protests and house-to-house operations in western Kenya.”  The report goes on to say that “in western Kenya, police fired teargas canisters and water cannons to disperse protesters, who threw stones and other crude objects at police. Protesters also blocked roads with stones, burned tires, and lit fires on the roads.” The violence that occurred after the August 8th vote signals the importance of this election to the nation and the re-vote that will occur in a few short weeks. This election not only determines the president, county governors, members of the Senate and Parliament, and other representatives, it also comes at a time when Kenya faces a whole slew of issues including corruption, droughts in the north, unemployment, rising costs of living, and jihadist militants in nearby Somalia. The election also comes eight years after the tumultuous one of 2007-2008, in which more than a thousand people were killed and 600,000 displaced due to a disputed election, similar to the dispute over votes that occurred a month ago, and ethnic tension. This accumulation of apprehension and agitation is not helped by the fact that the two presidential candidates already have a complex history. The two candidates are Raila Odinga from the center-left Orange Democratic Movement party and Uhuru Kenyatta from the center-right Jubilee Party of Kenya, but this election revolves around more than just their competing ideologies. Uhuru Kenyatta has been president since the 2013 election, when he beat out Odinga with the narrow margin of 50.7% of the votes. Odinga has run in 4 presidential elections including the 1997, 2007, 2013, and 2017 election, and in the 2007, 2013, and 2017 election, Odinga has claimed that the elections were tampered with, but this 2017 election is the first time that the Supreme Court has voted with Odinga that the election was in fact unlawful. Their history goes back even farther though to their two fathers during the time that Kenya gained independence from England. Oginga Odinga, father of Raila Odinga, was the vice-president of Jomo Kenyatta, the father of Uhuru Kenyatta. Oginga Odinga was later driven out by Jomo Kenyatta and his party. The history behind the two main candidates, the racial tensions within Kenya, and a flawed voting system have each contributed to a strained and complex election that, as of September 1st, is evidently not over yet.