Will Odinga’s Gambit Pay Off in Kenya?

OdingaSupporter, cc Flickr DEMOSH, modified, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/


After winning a disputed re-run of the presidential election in Kenya this month, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta is back in office for now. But the situation remains extremely precarious for the 55-year-old Kenyatta, who was elected with 98 percent of the vote on a meager turnout of 38 percent. The vast margin of victory owes itself to opposition leader Raila Odinga, who encouraged his supporters to boycott the vote and undermine Kenyatta’s electoral mandate. Polls were not even held in 25 constituencies dominated by opposition supporters, and Kenya remains more divided than at any time since the bloodshed of 2007, when a disputed presidential poll triggered widespread ethnic violence.

According to the media, at least 55 people have been killed in election-related violence since the first presidential poll was held in August. The country has been in the grip of instability since the Supreme Court annulled the result of the first poll, citing irregularities and mismanagement by the electoral commission.

Both sides have blamed each other for the political deadlock and accompanying violence. Odinga supporters question how a fair election could be held so soon after the Supreme Court found serious problems with the first poll. They point to the flight of electoral commissioner Roselyn Akombe, who quit as a commissioner of Kenya’s electoral board just before the most recent election, saying it would be neither free nor fair. But Kenyatta supporters claim that the veteran opposition leader has been deliberately obstructive during the whole process as he knows he does not have the votes to win in any national election. They accuse Odinga of playing a spoiler role in the hope of forcing a coalition government and gaining a high office. Kenyatta supporters have braced for a flood of legal challenges to the most recent election and are increasingly convinced that the opposition is holding Kenya ransom.



Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, and a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group, Kenya’s largest (with 22 percent of the population). He was the winner of the 2013 presidential election, also against Raila Odinga, and made history in 2013 by being sworn in as Kenya’s youngest president. But despite being a gifted diplomat, he is a controversial figure inside Kenya and abroad. Following the blood-soaked 2007 elections, he was accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of financing organized crimes against humanity and setting the Mungiki, an anti-Christian cult-cum-ethnic-Kikuyu-mafia, on members of rival tribes. Once in power however, he rallied other African leaders to put pressure on the ICC to drop its case against him, which it did after complaining its witnesses had been intimidated and warning charges could one day be reinstated. Opponents complain that freedom of expression has suffered under his rule, and that corruption has worsened during his first term in office.

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