After a tough counting process, the electoral authorities announced a winner. But the defeated Raila Odinga does not want to recognize the result – and receives support from a majority of the election commissioners.
Kenya’s presidential election ended on Monday with a surprising winner: the previous Vice President William Ruto was declared the new president by the head of the electoral authority in the evening. Ruto, a 55-year-old entrepreneur turned multi-millionaire from humble beginnings, was between 6 and 8 percentage points behind in the pre-election polls. He now won with 50.49 percent of the votes. His opponent, 77-year-old former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, received 48.85 percent of the vote.
But the choice is not over yet. Shortly before the announcement of the result in a cultural center in the capital Nairobi, four of the seven commissioners of the electoral commission surprisingly gave a press conference. They explained that they could not accept the results because the counting of the votes was “opaque” at the end. The commissioners promised to later provide details of the alleged voter fraud.
The commissioners’ press conference was a dramatic turning point on a day that was to end a tough counting process. The announcement of the result was originally scheduled for 3 p.m. local time. However, since Raila Odinga was the only one of the presidential candidates who did not appear, the ceremony was delayed. When the four commissioners gave their press conference shortly before 6 p.m., there was a scuffle in the cultural center between supporters of the two camps. Shortly thereafter, the head of the Electoral Commission declared William Ruto the winner.
Vuvuzelas and whistles in Kisumu
Before the presidential election descended into chaos, the mood was festive in many places in Kenya. People celebrated in the streets both in Eldoret, the place of origin of William Ruto, and in Kisumu, the third largest city in the country and stronghold of Raila Odinga.
In Kisumu, several hundred people gathered around noon at the Kondele Roundabout, a central transport hub. They blew whistles and vuvuzelas, danced in groups around the roundabout. They tapped their wrists to show it was time to announce the result. Although the previously known percentages spoke against their candidate, optimism prevailed.
“We’re happy because we can do it this time,” said Kevin Ouma, a motorcycle taxi driver. The economically important region around Kisumu on Lake Victoria has never had a Kenyan president since independence in 1963. Raila Odinga had failed four times before the current election, and was possibly cheated of victory more than once. The defeats led to protests. But Kevin Ouma said: “This time we don’t want blood, we want peace and harmony.”
Others were less optimistic. Elias Bahati, a 27-year-old driver, passed the roundabout on his way home. “Last time I checked, the numbers weren’t good for Odinga,” he said. “If Ruto wins, we will have no choice but to applaud him.”
That was a few hours before the presidential election ended in chaos.
rumors and misinformation
The confusion about who had won the election was due on the one hand to the close outcome, and on the other hand to the fact that television stations and newspapers each carried out their own counts, which differed greatly at times. The media used the result forms from the more than 46,000 polling stations for their counts. The electoral authorities had uploaded these to their website in order to make the counting process as transparent as possible. Since the results were entered by hand on the scanned forms, they first had to be laboriously added up.
The electoral authority’s official count was slower because they had to compare the physical result forms with the previously electronically transmitted versions in their counting center. The authority had seven days to announce a result. She did on the sixth.
As the official count dragged on, social media filled with rumors and misinformation. Prominent representatives from both political camps declared their candidate the winner, mostly without naming numbers. Twitter provided some of the messages with warnings.
Additional unrest arose when the media halted or severely slowed its counts Thursday night. Many Kenyans suspected that the media was being pressured or that they were afraid of having to announce a winner.
“No Baba, No Peace”
When it became apparent on Monday that Raila Odinga would not be declared the winner, the party at the traffic circle in Kisumu died down – and finally turned into protest. While some of those present watched on mobile phone screens as William Ruto was declared the winner, Nicolas Bembery stood in front of the police station near the roundabout and said: “The election authorities have sided with Ruto.”
Kevin Ouma, the motorcycle taxi driver who had spoken of peace and harmony a few hours earlier, said: “Now we have to make ourselves right.”
“No Baba, no peace,” added a young man in a football shirt next to him. Baba is the «father», it is the nickname of Raila Odinga.
A little later, dark smoke rose from the roundabout. The revelers, who had now become demonstrators, set Pneus on fire. More people streamed from the city center towards the roundabout, some rolled up more tires. Police officers with tear gas canisters slung over them approached from the same direction. A person may be seriously injured. She attached herself to a police vehicle and fell as it accelerated.
The provisional outcome of the election is a disaster for Kenya’s democracy. The country has a history of disputed and violent elections. In 2007, after the election, over 1,000 people were killed and up to 600,000 displaced. The last election in 2017 was annulled by the Supreme Court due to irregularities in the electoral authority and later repeated. The already tarnished credibility of the electoral authority is likely to be further seriously damaged by the current scandal. And the election will have legal repercussions.
The newly elected William Ruto will lead a populace that will be more divided after this election than before, and whose confidence in the country’s democratic institutions will have further eroded.
The challenges are great anyway. The population is suffering from food prices, which have risen by almost a fifth compared to the previous year. The economy has not yet recovered from the corona pandemic and the country is heavily indebted. In the north of the country around 4 million people are affected by a severe drought. Corruption in the political class is said to be costing the country the equivalent of every day 16 million francs.
During the election campaign, Ruto sold himself as an advocate for the millions of Kenyans who live hand-to-mouth. In a country whose politics traditionally had a strong ethnic slant, he played the class warrior. Among other things, he wants to equip a fund with 50 billion shillings (400 million francs) and use this to grant small loans.
During the election campaign, the future president primarily advertised with his biography. He is the son of a smallholder family, as a teenager he sold chickens on the side of the road. Later he rose to become a wealthy entrepreneur with real estate and agriculture, among other things. He has been an important figure in Kenyan politics for more than two decades. He was always followed by allegations of corruption. After the violence that followed the 2007 election, Ruto was indicted by the International Criminal Court. He is said to have orchestrated attacks. The charges were dropped in 2016.