Nairobi—The celebrations are over, and the cold reality is dawning that the historic Supreme Court nullification of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s August 8 election victory presented only a temporary respite from Kenya’s toxic ethnic politics.
The repeat elections ordered by the Supreme Court have been scheduled for October 17, but already, familiar battle lines have been drawn. Veteran opposition campaigner Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance, or NASA, vows that it will not take part in polls overseen by the same Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) indicted by the Supreme Court ruling.
President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, in turn, has regrouped after the initial shock of the decision to launch vicious attacks against both the Supreme Court and NASA, which it accuses of colluding to deliver the unfavorable ruling.
In the meantime, the IEBC, which is supposed to be organizing the fresh presidential election, is split down the middle. Chairman Wafula Chebukati attempted to sideline Chief Executive Ezra Chiloba and other key secretariat directors by appointing a project team to manage the rescheduled polling, but Chebukati was rebuffed by his fellow commissioners. After mediation by church leaders, he relented and said Chiloba would head the team.
With the commission distracted by infighting that is taking on hues of the familiar Kenyatta-Odinga political feud, there are real concerns that it might not manage the very tight timelines for the repeat election, which by law must be held within 60 days of the Supreme Court’s September 1 verdict.
Issues also arise around the credibility of an electoral management body found by the courts to have bungled the August polling and, worse, one in which feuding commissioners and top managers are seen to be allied to either of the rival political groupings. While the Supreme Court decision caught global attention, resumption of the usual politics serves as a reminder that nothing has really changed.
The split decision by Chief Justice David Maraga’s Supreme Court bench—quite apart from being a vindication of Odinga’s complaint that the voting had been rigged—was celebrated across the world as a triumph for constitutionalism and the rule of law. It was seen as not only a landmark decision but an example for the rest of the African continent, where incumbents all too often cling to power through fixed polls and there is no legal recourse in systems where the courts are usually extensions of the political leadership.
The decision was also in some ways an indictment of the large contingent of international election observers who in the immediate aftermath of the August vote gave the poll a “free and fair” mark, only to be left with egg on their faces.