Kenya Elections decided by the narrowest of Margins

Last weekend saw a familiar name echoing through the radio and TV channels of Kenya. Then Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta prevailed in the country’s presidential elections by the slimmest of all imaginable margins, winning 50.03 % of all votes.

This sparked not only controversy in Kenya and an immediate legal challenge by Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Kenyatta needed to break the 50 per cent barrier to avoid a run-off with Odinga, but he did so by only 4 099 votes out of more than 12.3 million total votes.

These elections were the first since 2007 that prompted weeks of tribe-on-tribe violence after a disputed election win was claimed by President Mwai Kibaki. More than 1 000 people were killed in attacks that included machetes, bows, arrows and firearms.

A win by Kenyatta could greatly affect Kenya’s relations with the West. Kenyatta faces charges at the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in directing some of Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence. His running mate, William Ruto, faces similar charges.

The U.S. has warned of “consequences”, if Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding father, wins, as have several European countries. Britain, which ruled Kenya up until the early 1960s, has said they would have only essential contact with the Kenyan government if Kenyatta is president.

Odinga’s camp has indicated legal challenges could be filed. Monday’s presidential vote proceeded mostly peacefully, but the counting process has been stymied by a myriad of break-downs and errors.

That the winner was quietly revealed overnight and came as somewhat of a surprise. Diplomats said they believed Odinga was not likely to protest the vote in a manner that would increase the chances of violence, but rather honor his pledge to respect the result and petition the courts with any grievances. Only 48 hours later this can be evaluated as lip-service as Odinga stormed to the Courts.

The coming days and weeks will bring clarity about the challenge as well as for the world-wide acceptance of the result. For now the hope remains that the 2007 events subsequently shattering the country will not repeat themselves. Kenya deserves a break to carefully rebuild and reclaim its position amongst the leading African nations, it is NOT “Out of Africa” !

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