Re-Running Elections Through the Court in Kenya: A Dangerous Game

Jacob D’Souza

October, 2017

Left: President Uhuru Kenyatta, Right: Ralia Odinga

Left: President Uhuru Kenyatta, Right: Ralia Odinga


October 26th will optimistically mark the end of the turbulent Kenyan Presidential election. Their 2017 election period has been defined by corruption, with moments of violence.

The election cycle began with some of current President Uhuru Kenyatta supporters calling for the assassination of opposition leader Raila Odinga, and the death of a top election official in charge of the voting technology one week prior to the original election in August.

Kenyans first headed to the polls on August 8th to vote for their president. The released results stated Kenyatta secured 54% of the vote – surpassing the 50% threshold - compared to Odinga’s 45%.

Due to the vast skepticism of Kenyatta’s potential rigging, Odinga’s petitioned the court to invalidate the August 8th results. In early September, Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the presidential election results due to “irregularities affect[ing] the integrity of the poll”. The re-election was announced to be held on October 17th – however, this date was altered due to further irregularities.

The 2017 election marked Kenya’s implementation of an electronic voting system to verify ballots, eliminating ‘ghost voters’. Prior to the election period consulting firm KPMG audited the system removing 80,000 ghost voters, and suspecting up to 1 million more should be removed. The expectation was a digital voting system would eradicate irregular-ballot controversies that had engulfed previous Kenyan elections.

Preceding election periods had endured great violence due to voting controversies and notions of election rigging. Most notably, upon the announcement of the 2007 – 2008 presidential election results violence erupted killing over 1,300 citizens and displacing 600,000.

The 2017 election saw an absence of mass violence, but sustained violence on a small scale. Nine days prior to the August vote, Chris Msando, the IT manager for the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) was found dead in the capital of Nairobi.

The re-election cycle has been plagued by additional irregularities. Kenyatta expressed dismay with the court’s ruling, but stated he would abide by their decision. Conversely, Odinga stated he would only participate in the re-vote upon the implementation of two reforms: 1. The replacement of the head of the electoral commission 2. The transfer for the company in charge of printing ballots. 

The original October 17th date was rescheduled to October 26th to allow the Supreme Court time to meet Odinga’s requirements.

On October 10th opposition leader, Odinga, withdrew from the ballot on the grounds the electoral commission has failed to implement the necessary reforms, stating “all indications are that the election scheduled for October 26th will be worse than the previous one”.

The announcement of Odinga withdrawal invoked deadly protests, resulting in the government banning further protest due to safety concerns.

Odinga has since discouraged citizens from participating in the “sham election” – influencing a boycott – and establishing an anti-government “resistance movement”.

There remain six candidates to oppose Kenyatta’s leadership, however, these candidates do not hold the equal political following or sway as Odinga.

The re-election of Kenyatta would be fatal to regional stability. Kenya is a primary actor in ensuring East African security and economic prosperity. The states large military operations allow for deployment in neighbouring nations, such as their military presence in Somalia contesting Al-Shabab.

Additionally, Kenya’s infrastructure and ports are vital to regional trade. More importantly, the nation is considered a leader within the region for democratic practices and stability. A region beleaguers by stereotypes of instability, corruption, and savagery, Kenya seeks to defy these preconceived notions with the establishment of democratic institutions.  

The present election period proves to be fragile and testing the state democratic practices, and regional governance. The practice of a free and fair election and the peaceful transfer of power is not only fundamental to warrant off potential violence, but to safe guard foreign direct investments.   

China has invested billions in Kenya and the region, totalling around $26 billion of FDI. These investments have notably been in infrastructure. The state recently opened a $4 billion USD railway linking Nairobi with the port city of Mombasa. Political instability and violence may deter China from continued investments, and in neighbouring states.

The election on the 26th will be one closely watched. It is expected for Kenyatta to maintain his position as President, but what is more important is how the nation reacts. Large scale violence is very plausible, especially with the encouragement of Odinga. Furthermore, the reaction of outside actors, such as the African Union and fellow East African states, will be fundamental as Kenya is a key facet for regional prosperity and stability.