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Kenyan court annuls election result, setting African precedent

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 1, 2017

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, center, addresses his supporters as he leaves the Supreme Court in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (Ben Curtis / Associated Press)
Opposition leader Raila Odinga, center, addresses his supporters as he leaves the Supreme Court in downtown Nairobi, Kenya Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. (Ben Curtis / Associated Press)
By Felix Njini and Mike Cohen Bloomberg

Kenya was flung into turmoil after the Supreme Court tossed out the results of last month’s presidential election in a stunning decision that’s unprecedented in Africa.

The judges ordered a new vote to be held within 60 days, opening an intense campaign at risk of being marred by violence. The news sparked celebrations in the capital, Nairobi, and in Kisumu, stronghold of opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who said the ruling marked “a historic day” for the people of Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, winner of the annulled vote, said he disagreed with the decision but would respect it.

With its decision that the electoral commission failed to conduct a fair vote, the six-judge court demonstrated its enduring independence from the government of the day. It came at a time when demands for political change are spreading across Africa. Opposition parties won power in the past five years in Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, Ghana, Gambia and Senegal.

“Our pastor told us to pray for God to do his will, and I am happy God has answered our prayers,” Eric Omondi, 28, said as he paused from welding a gate in the Nairobi slum of Kibera. “On election day I will if possible sleep in the line. I know Raila will win the presidency.”

The ruling Chief Justice David Maraga read out Friday to a packed Nairobi courtroom was a damning rebuke to the electoral commission, which repeatedly denied opposition claims that hackers rigged the vote results on its computer systems.

“This is an extraordinary ruling,” said Jibran Qureishi, East Africa economist at Stanbic Holdings. “If anything, it affirms our narrative regarding institutional strength and maturity.”

The outcome of the new vote is too close to call, with the same officials who ran the last one probably remaining in charge of the rerun, said Phillip O. Nying’uro, chairman of the department of political science at the University of Nairobi.

“It is going to be very tricky; we may end up with the same outcomes,” he said. “There is a history of impunity in Kenya. This has not ended with this ruling.”

Odinga called for six electoral commission officials to face criminal prosecution.

“Clear evidence shows that the commission was taken over by criminals who ran the general elections using the technology system and inserted a computer-generated leadership,” he told reporters on Friday.

IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati said the commission is awaiting the court’s written judgment before making any decisions about what action it will take.

Kenya, the world’s largest shipper of black tea and a regional hub for companies including Google Inc. and Coca Cola Co., faces an increased chance of violence, said John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London.

“The ruling leaves the authorities with little time to improve or reform the scandal-plagued election commission, which may throw doubt on the result,” he said. “Opposition supporters – whose distrust in the voting system appears to have been validated – may see another win for president Kenyatta as proof that the authorities are conspiring against them.”

Clashes between security forces and Odinga supporters claimed 24 lives after the result was declared on Aug. 11, according to the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights. The opposition put to the death toll at more than 100 people, while police confirmed 10 deaths in Nairobi and didn’t release tolls from other areas. The deaths evoked memories of two months of ethnic conflict after a disputed 2007 vote that left more than 1,100 people dead.

Kenyan shares tumbled and the currency dropped after the court ruling, reflecting perceptions that prolonged elections will mean continued uncertainty, said Razia Khan, chief Africa economist at Standard Chartered Plc in London. The benchmark stock index closed down 1.2 percent, while the shilling traded 0.2 percent weaker against the dollar. Safaricom Ltd., the country’s largest company, dropped as much as 10 percent, the biggest decline in a year.

“A re-run of the election will contribute to more uncertainty and prolong any return to business-as-usual, allowing the focus to shift back to the economy,” Khan said. The government expects growth to slow to 5.5 percent this year, from 5.8 percent in 2016.

Odinga, a former prime minister, waged unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1997, 2007 and 2013. The Supreme Court threw out his allegations of rigging in the 2013 vote that propelled Kenyatta to power, a ruling Odinga has previously described as a “travesty of justice.”

“There is no justice in Kenya, only money rules,” said Jackson Mwedeya, a 38-year-old resident of Kibera. “We are ready to vote again so we get a leader of the people. We don’t want a computer to choose leaders. ”

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