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Chance for Kenya to become exemplary democracy in East Africa

A voter casting her ballot during Kenya's general elections

A voter casting her ballot during Kenya's general elections

Kenya, an East African Community member, went to the polls yesterday to choose a new president.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has served his constitutional two-year terms, is expected to leave office without any hitch. This is a tight election pitting two political giants, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga against Deputy President William Ruto. This is a significant exercise because it is the third election held under the untampered 2010 Constitution.

Secondly, it is a race where a sitting deputy president is contesting against a perennial contender. The 2007 election, which President Mwai Kibaki won against Raila Odinga was disputed and led to a bloodbath.

In 2017, the Supreme Court of Kenya annulled the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta in which the judges blamed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for having failed, neglected, or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.”

This was unprecedented for the court to annul elections in East Africa. In Uganda where several presidential election petitions have been filed, the courts have always been predictable with their ‘substantiality principle; that is whether non-compliance with the provisions and principles of the Presidential Election Act affected the result of the election in a substantial manner!

This predictable response disillusioned petitioners and questioned the independence of the judiciary. Then President Uhuru Kenyatta, although he was not happy with the court’s verdict, pledged to respect the decision.

Kenyatta said: “The court has made its decision. We respect it. We don’t agree with it. And again, I say peace ... peace, peace, peace. That is the nature of democracy.”

Indeed, when the country returned to the polls in 2018 between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the former carried the day. Violence erupted in some parts of Kenya with supporters of Odinga threatening to return the country to the 2007 post-election bloodbath.

President Uhuru instead extended an olive leaf to Odinga in what was famously labeled “the handshake.”

Part of Uhuru’s group especially the deputy president, William Ruto did not like this approach. But this was intended to end the acrimony which followed the 2017 presidential elections. Indeed, this laid the foundation for national healing.

Uganda has so many things to learn from Kenya. Kenyans have distinguished themselves as East Africans who have learnt from their past mistakes. They have learnt to respect their home-grown constitution.

President Uhuru is fairly young and influential, but he has avoided the temptation to amend the constitution to elongate his stay in power as has become the trend in Africa. They have a fairly constituted and independent judiciary whose decisions have often ruffled the executive’s feathers.

They have learnt to devolve and share power peacefully. During the past campaigns, we have not witnessed any political leaders or their agents being kidnapped or disappeared from the face of earth or slapped with fictitious criminal charges.

They have turned elections into the legitimate means of changing office bearers. This is the time for Kenya to shine as an emerging democracy in the region. May the best person win!


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