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'A nation waits' as Kenya top court is set for poll ruling

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2013-03-30

Security was tight around Kenya’s Supreme Court Saturday as the nation awaited the verdict of Raila Odinga’s legal challenge of the results of the March 4 presidential poll, which gave Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) a slim win.

Police formed a security cordon around the impressive stone structure that is home to Kenya’s Supreme Court in the heart of the capital Nairobi Saturday as the nation awaited the results of a legal challenge to Uhuru Kenyatta’s slim victory of the 2013 presidential election in a nation still traumatised by the post-election bloodshed after the last poll five years ago.

“A nation waits,” read the banner headline of the country’s leading newspaper, Daily Nation, underscoring the simmering anticipation that has gripped Kenya over the past few weeks after defeated candidate Raila Odinga challenged the results of the March 4 vote.

Kenyatta was proclaimed the winner of the March 4 poll with 50.07% of the vote, avoiding a runoff vote by just 8,000 ballots. But the results have been challenged by his arch-rival Odinga, who claimed the election was marred by irregularities.

Under Kenyan law, the Supreme Court must deliver its verdict Saturday, making the institution the focus of attention across the country and the region over the Easter weekend.

In a tweet posted Saturday morning, Kenya’s Chief Justice Willy Mutunga has promised the verdict will be “not later than 5 pm [local time, 3 pm Paris time] today”. But Mutunga also added “Inshallah” [God willing] in his tweet, a term that speaks volumes in a nation that’s no stranger to delays.

“Kenyans are generally calm as the verdict is being awaited,” said FRANCE 24’s Duncan Woodside, reporting from Nairobi. “Since Kenyans went to the polls, the country hasn’t experienced violence related to the elections at all and it’s to be hoped that the situation remains calm.”

The Kenyan police force however has been taking no chances, tightening security in the downtown area of Nairobi around the Supreme Court.

At a press briefing Friday, Kenya's police chief David Kimaiyo said there would be tight security across the country and “any form of violence” would not be tolerated. He also added that gatherings around the court building on Saturday were banned.

But as the anxious minutes ticked by on Saturday, a crowd of Odinga supporters gathered near the court and were pushed back by police.

Three possible scenarios

While the March 4 poll was conducted peacefully and the post-electoral challenges are being addressed in court rather than the streets and shanties of Kenya, this East African powerhouse is still haunted by the ethnic carnage that followed the disputed December 2007 polls, which killed more than 1,000 people and displaced over 600,000 others.

Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, face crimes of humanity charges at the ICC (International Criminal Court) for their alleged roles in orchestrating the violence following the 2007 polls.

Should Kenyatta’s victory be upheld by the Supreme Court, it presents a major headache for Western nations trying to juggle diplomatic engagement with a regional powerhouse headed by an ICC-charged president and a growing Chinese presence in the country.

Reporting from Nairobi, FRANCE 24’s Woodside said there were three main options opened to the Supreme Court. “It can uphold the original results, that being that Uhuru Kenyatta narrowly triumphed and avoided the necessity of a runoff,” said Woodside “The second main scenario is that the Supreme Court orders a rerun of the entire process and that’s what’s being demanded by Raila Odinga."

"But there’s also a third option open to the Supreme Court and that’s to order a limited new poll based not on the declaration of systematic fraud, but just small discrepancies. That would involve a runoff effectively between Kenyatta and Odinga,” Woodside said.

An old battle in a new guise

The court battle between the two leading candidates is just the latest round in a longstanding rivalry between the Kenyattas and Odingas that goes back a generation.

One of Africa’s richest men, Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s founding father – Jomo Kenyatta. Odinga is the son of Kenya’s first vice president, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who famously fell out with the country’s founding father and quit his position before serving as head of the opposition.

The March 9 declaration of victory for Kenyatta marked a continuation of the status quo in Kenya, an East African nation that has seen neither a military coup, nor army rule, nor the type of revolution or sweeping nationalisation of resources that many other post-colonial African countries have experienced.

In its 50-year history, Kenya has had four presidents, three of them Kikuyus, but none from Odinga’s Luo tribe.



Date created : 2013-03-30


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