Tuesday, 06 September 2022 05:35

[OPINION] Kenya: William Ruto’s Triumph - Reuben Abati

On August 9, the people of Kenya went to the polls to elect a new President, the incumbent President, Uhuru Kenyatta having completed the constitutional two terms in office. There were elections at other levels -governorship, parliamentary and at county levels but the main focus was the Presidential election with four main candidates:  Deputy President, William Ruto, 55, of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA)/Kenya Kwanza Alliance, Raila Odinga, 77, of the Orange Democratic Movement/Azimio One Coalition, Professor George Wajackoyah, 63, of the Roots Party of Kenya and David Mwaure Waihiga, 55, of the Agano Party.  On August 15, the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) announced victory for William Ruto with 7.1 million votes (50. 5 %), followed by Raila Odinga, with 6.9 million votes (48. 9%). Wajackoyah scored 0.44% of the votes and David M. Waihiga, 0.23%. 

 

The result was rejected by Raila Odinga and his running mate, Martha Karua and their supporters who threatened that the result will be challenged in court. This was Odinga’s fifth shot at the Presidency of Kenya. At 77, losing the election means he would not achieve his dream of becoming President. He would be 82 years by the next Presidential election. He refused to congratulate William Ruto, nor did he acknowledge Ruto’s offer of an olive branch to run an inclusive, people-focused government. Odinga was not alone. He enjoys the support of incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta who has never hidden his disdain for his Deputy. Kenyatta openly supported Raila Odinga, resulting in the characterization of the Kenya Presidential election as a battle between hustlers and the products of dynasties, that is - between poor Kenyans and big, influential families. Kenyatta’s father and Odinga’s father are historical figures in Kenya. Ruto describes himself as “the son of a nobody”, “a chicken seller”– whose mother sold by the roadside but who is determined to lead Kenya. Kenyatta has also refused to congratulate his Deputy, as of the time of this writing. The Deputy’s offence was that he refused to support Kenyatta’s plan to violate the Constitution and do a third term in office!  

 

Yesterday, both Kenyatta and Odinga were further humiliated when the Supreme Court of Kenya, in a seven-man panel led by Chief Justice Martha Koome, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the election of August 9 was validly won by William Ruto of the UDA. The Court had three options before it: to declare and validate the election, and hence allow it to stand, to rule that William Ruto did not score up to the 50.5% announced for him, and hence declare a run-off, or to cancel the election altogether and order a rerun. The Court held that Ruto won. The other winner is Wafula Chebukati, Chairman of the Kenya Electoral Commission, who insisted on the integrity of the election conducted under his watch. As he announced the results on August 15, four of his commissioners walked out on him, led by Juliana Cherera, the vice chairperson of IEBC, and went on to announce their own verdict at a different location. Cherera and co rejected the results, saying it was “opaque”. Chebukati received death threats. The two remaining Commissioners who stood by him were beaten up. Odinga’s supporters were restless, and there were fears that Kenya could slip into another round of electoral violence as happened in 2017, when the Supreme Court overturned the Presidential election, and ordered a new election which led to an orgy of violence that claimed 1,100 lives and the displacement of thousands. 

 

In 2022, the Supreme Court of Kenya received a total of nine petitions, eight of which challenged Ruto’s election, while one supported his victory.  The Court chose to strike out two of the petitions and consolidate the remaining seven into one. It then further reduced the issues for determination to nine viz: Did the technology deployed by the IEBC meet standards of integrity? Was there interference in the transmission of Forms 34A? Were there significant differences between the physical Form 34A and what was loaded on the IEBC portal? Did the President-elect get 50% + one of the votes cast? Were there discrepancies in the results? Where were the irregularities alleged by the petitioners, if any, and to what degree? Did the IEBC act in accordance with the law?  Did the postponement of Mombasa and Kakamega governorship elections and other polls result in voter suppression? What relief and orders should the Supreme Court consider? In the course of the 14 days during which the petitions were considered, Odinga’s lawyers insisted that the IEBC election technology was tampered with, and that election servers were pre-configured by mercenaries from Venezuela who intercepted and manipulated results.

 

The Supreme Court of Kenya, in determining the nine issues identified, ruled entirely in favour of William Ruto and the IEBC, and dismissed the claims by the petitioners. They found that the petitioners did not prove their case beyond reasonable doubt, that there were no discrepancies, no interference in the verification, uploading and transmission of results, that there was no evidence of pre-configuration of results or conspiracy to taint the transmission process. The Court also upheld the authenticity of Form 34A, and accused the petitioners of pushing sensational information, hearsay evidence, and actions bordering on perjury, while blowing hot air, and going on a wild goose chase. Thus, along those lines, the Supreme Court of Kenya confirmed the election of William Ruto as the fifth President of Kenya.  

 

Their Lordships of the Supreme Court of Kenya deserve applause for giving a ruling that addresses the issues pointedly, promotes stability, and acquits the Court honourably in helping to protect democracy.  Days before the ruling, there had been speculations in Kenya that the Supreme Court had been intimidated and bribed by the President and the ODM candidate, Odinga, and that attempts had also been made to bribe the Chairman of IEBC, Chebukati. In the course of the election petition, there had been so much disinformation and misinformation with persons pushing all kinds of conspiracy theories on social media. The big issue in the 2022 Kenya election would seem to be the distrust between the people and their institutions. The petitioners fuelled that divisive factor by simply insisting that there was no way their man could lose. The whole matter got messy when John Githongo, Kenya’s corruption czar whose story has been told most eloquently in Michela Wrong’s book - It’s Our Turn to Eat - backed Odinga’s campaign and reported that he had information that indeed a 56-member hacker team manipulated Forms 34A. 

 

What the Supreme Court ruling has done is to confer legitimacy on the results as announced by Chebukati on August 15. Future reviews of the ruling may well indicate that the Court downplayed some of the limitations of the election, while focussing heavily on the sensational and conspiracy-laden submissions by the petitioners, but the position of the law today is that Ruto’s election stands. For Ruto’s supporters, this will strengthen their belief in Kenya’s democracy that it is indeed possible for the child of the poor to aspire to the highest position in the land. Except that Ruto had long ago moved from being a poor hustler, without a dynasty to a ranking member of the Kenyan establishment. For establishment figures like Kenyatta and Odinga, they are now under pressure to act like statesmen. As the Supreme Court delivered its ruling, anxious young Kenyans watched the proceedings on big screens on the streets of the Rift Valley of Eldoret and in Nakuru and Mt. Kenya: strongholds of the main gladiators.

 

On Sunday, both Ruto and Odinga promised to respect the decision of the Supreme Court. They must now be joined by President Uhuru Kenyatta and others in doing so. Shortly after the Supreme Court verdict, Martha Karua, Odinga’s running mate, wrote on Twitter: “The court has spoken. I respect its decision, but disagree with the findings.”  Her principal Raila Odinga said more or less the same thing. He too disagrees, and accuses the Supreme Court of using “unduly exaggerated language.”  But it is democracy that has won. It is time for Kenya to move on. Next week, William Ruto will be sworn in as next President of the Republic of Kenya. His victory has been hard-fought and hard-won. It is particularly instructive that ethnicity has not been a major, problematic factor in this election. Even in Bondo town, the Opoda home of Raila Odinga, there have been no protests. There have been no celebrations either.  The people say they are ready to work with the new President but he must not sideline the region. Raila Odinga should listen to his own people.  At the inauguration of the President next week, Kenyatta, Odinga, and all the other key figures in the election must project an image of unity, attend the occasion and show solidarity because Kenya is more important than their individual ambitions. William Ruto is not the “thug” or the “tanga tanga man”, Kenyatta says he is. He is the choice of the people of Kenya who certainly trust him to move their country forward.  

 

Congratulations, President William Ruto. It is now time for work! The issue of the legitimacy of the election may have been settled by the Supreme Court but there is the remaining issue of how to build trust in government and promote unity across Kenya. You promised to eschew the politics of vengeance, and run an inclusive government. You recently invited Odinga to come have a cup of tea and a conversation. You should extend that invitation again not just to Odinga, but also to Kenyatta and others. Your wife, Rachel Ruto has been quoting the Bible and talking about destiny. She is probably right: William Ruto would be the first Deputy President in Kenyan history to succeed his principal, and the second Kalenjin after Daniel Arap Moi, to become President. Both the burdens of history and office place a great responsibility on Ruto’s shoulders. He must proceed with maturity and wisdom in the best interest of the people of Kenya who are painfully weighed down by the high cost of everything from petrol to national sovereignty and security. And for us Nigerians: here is a lesson: Look at how the Presidential election petitions in Kenya were swiftly determined – all within two weeks, before swearing-in. In Nigeria, we delay so much and allow the declared winner to use state resources and institutions to determine outcomes.  We need to reform that aspect of our electoral process, to avoid unnecessary delays and manipulation of institutions, and to encourage our judges to be courageous, by conferring the Supreme Court of Nigeria with original jurisdiction in Presidential election matters since in any case, they are sui generis. 

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