NAIROBI – Kenya’s electoral commission announced Friday that the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been re-elected, putting an official end to a fierce electoral contest that many fear could be clouded by a dispute over the results.
Opposition candidate Raila Odinga, 72, has alleged that the results of Tuesday’s balloting were rigged and pledged not to accept them unless he was declared the winner. That stance has raised tensions, with Odinga’s followers burning tires in recent days in some of Nairobi’s slums and protesting in the western city of Kisumu.
Odinga’s campaign on Friday suggested a possible way out of the dispute, with officials saying they might accept the results if they were able to inspect the electoral commission’s computer servers. But for days, some of his most extreme supporters have promised to take to the streets if Kenyatta was announced the winner.
According to the official results, Kenyatta received 54.2 percent of the votes to Odinga’s 44.7 percent.
This week, Nairobi, normally a frenetic city of legendary traffic jams, was transformed into a relative ghost town, with many families leaving out of fear. On Friday morning, in anticipation of the official results being announced, Odinga’s supporters staged small demonstrations in some areas, taunting the police and chanting “No Raila, no peace.”
Even though Kenya has been considered a symbol of political and economic stability in East Africa in recent years, it is riven by tribal loyalties that inject immense bitterness and anger into national elections. In 2007, more than 1,000 people were killed in ethnic violence after Odinga lost that year’s presidential election and alleged vote-rigging.
Even though Kenya has been considered a model of political and economic stability in East Africa in recent years, it is riven by tribal loyalties. In 2007, more than 1,000 people were killed in ethnic violence after Odinga lost that year’s presidential election amid alleged vote-rigging.
Kenyatta, 55, the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, is a member of the Kukuyu ethnic group, which has dominated politics since Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963. Odinga, his longtime political rival, belongs to the Luo tribe.
Kenyatta was first elected in 2013, and has tried to project the image of a reformer, even as his government has been plagued by allegations of corruption. In his campaign, he emphasized his commitment to expanding Kenya’s infrastructure.
In an acceptance speech, Kenyatta addressed his opponents, saying: “We are not enemies. We are all citizens of one republic,” He later added, “There is no need for violence.”
In Kenyatta’s second term, he will govern a nation where economists see potential for growth, but where the challenges facing public institutions -from the security forces to the health sector – are profound. Although Kenya is a vibrant democracy, with immense election turnouts, most people in the country lack faith in their own government’s ability to assist them.
One of the reasons, analysts say, that Kenya’s elections are so hotly contested is that the central government has been an enormously profitable political machine, awarding contracts across a large patronage network. A report from Kenya’s auditor-general last year said that about $200 million meant for the National Youth Service had been paid to fraudulent companies, including some with connections to politicians. The United States earlier this year suspended $21 million in health funding due to corruption allegations.
Some of Kenyatta’s critics see him as a son of privilege, who attended Kenya’s top private schools before enrolling at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In 2011, Forbes named him the 26th wealthiest man in Africa, with a net worth estimated at $500 million. Kenyatta has denied that he is a rich man.
One of Kenyatta’s first challenges will be reaching out to Odinga supporters.
In the days since the presidential vote, Odinga has put forth two hazy, loosely related explanations about how the vote was manipulated.
He first alleged that a hacker had gained access to the electoral commission’s database and then accused the commission of concealing the actual results, which Odinga said proved he was the winner.
Odinga refused to participate in the official announcement of the result and has not yet conceded.
“We will not be party to (the announcement). Our issues have not been addressed,” said Musalia Mudavadi, one of Odinga’s advisers.
Election monitors, including former secretary of state John Kerry, said they saw no signs of a rigged vote and that there is enough documentation to settle any disputes over the results.
But Odinga supporters, many of them members of his Luo tribe or its allies, said they are being robbed of yet another election. The Luo are one of the major ethnic groups in Kenya, but a Luo has never been president of Kenya, and many members of the tribe attribute their socioeconomic troubles to their group’s political exclusion.
“We are tired of being ruled by Kikuyus,” said Wycliffe Onyalo, 25, who was demonstrating in favor of Odinga on Friday morning on the main street of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, before the results were announced.
“We are willing to lose our lives,” said Steve Omindo, another protester.
Kenya was caught largely unprepared for thepost-election violence that erupted in 2007. This time, security forces had fanned out en masse in volatile parts of the country. Analysts expected face-offs between protesters and police in places like Kibera, but said the violence would not likely consume entire cities and towns as it did a decade ago.
Kenyatta was charged by the International Criminal Court with instigating some of the violence that year. Those charges were later dropped for lack of evidence, and Kenyatta ran for president in 2013.
During his five years as president, Kenya’s economy has enjoyed steady growth and rising foreign investment. But it has been battered by major terrorist attacks, including one on an upscale Nairobi mall that killed 48 people in 2013, and another in 2015 at a northern university, which left 148 dead. The military remains mired in a seemingly intractable war in Somalia against Islamist extremist fighters of al-Shabab.
“This issue of terrorism is new to us,” Kenyatta said in 2015, during a visit from then-President Barack Obama, “and as it is new, we learn with each and every step.”
His administration has also been plagued by allegations of corruption that many Kenyans see as the reason for the country’s vast inequalities, with well-connected millionaires enjoying luxuries while large numbers of people struggle to afford food and housing.