The people of Kenya have elected Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta as their president and William Ruto as the deputy president. This was the first election under a new constitution and also the first presidential election after the 2007 post-election violence. Although there were technical challenges with the electronic system that was meant to transmit results from the polling stations to the national tallying center, the election was largely free, fair and credible. Contrary to widespread predictions that the race would end in a runoff, Kenyatta was able to receive over 50 percent of the votes cast in the first round as required by the constitution for a candidate to be declared president.
The electoral process was managed by an electoral commission that is independent, and one that has conducted its business in an open and transparent manner. The commission set various eligibility requirements for the candidates to run for the presidency and other elected positions. The commission has also followed the election regulations guiding its operations. The reformed judiciary properly adjudicated the eligibility of the candidates. Thus, by all standards and provisions of Kenya’s new constitution, Uhuru Kenyatta has been duly elected the fourth president of the Republic of Kenya.
The election was conducted under intense international oversight of a large contingency of international observers. The general verdict of the observers is that the election was free and fair. Thus, the election of Kenyatta and Ruto is a true reflection of the will of the people of Kenya and is therefore an advancement of democracy in Kenya and Africa.
Kenyatta and Ruto’s win has not come easy. The two have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged involvement in the 2007 post-election violence. The ICC intervention in Kenya has, however, been seen by Kenyans as largely a political, rather than a judicial, process. A large fraction of Kenyans have come to regard the ICC intervention as an attempt to remove the two from political contention rather than seek justice for the victims of the violence. This view was given credence by statements by European and U.S. officials warning Kenyans of dire consequences if they elected Kenyatta and Ruto. These statements came just when polls showed that the race for presidency was tightening. Therefore, many Kenyans considered the statements an attempt by the United States and Europe to impose leaders on them: To an extent, Uhuru’s win represents a rejection of what Kenyans consider neo-colonial intervention. Even with intimidation over sanctions, Kenyans have made their choice, and this choice should be respected by all those who genuinely stand for democracy and freedom.
The election of the two should also be seen as repudiation of the ICC. As I have observed over the last year, the ICC intervention in Kenya has had the very adverse effect of exacerbating ethnic divisions in the country. To some extent, the rejection of Prime Minister Raila Odinga is because of his real or perceived collaboration with the ICC to selectively have his key competitors accused. While this perception of his motives may be unfair, it has gained traction and was a key factor in bringing Ruto and Kenyatta together into the winning coalition. In essence, the credibility of the ICC in Kenya and, indeed, in Africa is severely damaged. As such, the international community’s engagement with Kenya should not be informed by the ICC process. Already the cases are falling apart and the Court has in fact referred one of the cases back to the pre-trial chamber to reconsider the confirmation of charges. There are indications that the charges should be withdrawn as witnesses have recanted their statements, which were pivotal in confirming the charges. It is therefore irrational and shortsighted for foreign governments to base their relations with a democratically elected government on the basis of what Kenyans have come to rightfully consider a highly political ICC process.
The head of state and his deputy face a challenging task ahead of them. The new leadership must focus on the issues surrounding the post-election violence, including historical grievances, such as land ownership and access to economic opportunities, that were the real cause of the violence. They must also focus on regional inequalities and youth unemployment, both of which have the potential to destabilize the country. Finally, the new leadership has inherited a country that is severely divided along ethnic lines, especially because of the ICC intervention. Kenya cannot become the great nation that it aspires to be with such a fractionalized society. The success of the Kenyatta administration will therefore largely depend on how well it succeeds in unifying Kenyans.
Former Brookings Expert
For the Kenyatta administration to succeed in steering Kenya towards a path of economic transformation, it must strengthen Kenya’s relations with her neighbors in East Africa and Africa at large. The administration must also deepen and diversify the country’s strategic relations with the wider international community, especially in respect to development cooperation, trade and investment. However, such relationships should not be at the expense of ceding Kenya’s sovereignty. This is the clear and resounding message that Kenyans sent in voting for Kenyatta and Ruto.
A few weeks before the election, President Barack Obama delivered a pointed message to the people of Kenya in which he made it clear that the United States was not supporting any particular candidate and that his government would work with the leaders that Kenyans elect in a free and fair election. The Kenyans have made this choice and have done so guided by a new constitution that has largely overhauled the country’s institutions. To advance the course of peace and stability in Kenya, it is crucial that the international community, led by President Obama, support Kenyatta and his government as he takes over the leadership of the country. This support should start with an explicit message congratulating the president-elect.
President Obama can demonstrate his commitment to the advancement of democracy in Africa by making an official visit to Kenya as soon as possible. It will be great day for Kenya and Africa when the democratically elected President Kenyatta hosts the leader of the free world in the country of his father’s birth.