40 Cruising for a crisis
The country was braced for clashes as opposition leader Raila Odinga called for mass protests in support of his boycott of the 26 October repeat elections
Aweek before Kenya’s 26 October election the sound of pressure valves hissing was almost deafening, with growing fears of violence on the streets. Having urged his supporters to boycott the vote, leaving President Uhuru Kenyatta to run unopposed, oppositionist former candidate Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) upped the ante by calling for mass protests on the day. The very same day Odinga made his rallying cry – 18 October – news broke that a senior member of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EIBC), Roselyn Akombe, had resigned and fled to the United States amid death threats. In a statement to the press, Akombe cited fear, intimidation and “legal advice […] skewed to fit partisan political interests” among reasons she believed the election would not be credible. Odinga’s elation at the Supreme Court judgement to annul the 8 August presidential election due to irregularities was soon tempered when he saw Nasa’s demands would not be met. At the centre of these was the call to replace Ezra Chiloba, the IEBC’S chief executive officer, who had presided over the flawed elections. Nasa made other demands, including stricter rules on the use of technology in vote tallying and the transmission of results, and the appointment of new returning officers in all 290 constituencies.
Announcing his withdrawal from the election to a packed press conference on 10 October, Odinga said: “The new election will be as corruptly conducted as [8 August] and its outcome will in no way represent the will of Kenyans.” Odinga travelled to the UK to appear at Chatham House a few days later to drum up international support for his campaign to reform the electoral commission. A confident Odinga told reporters: “The 26th is a no deal. You can take that to the bank.” Odinga’s goal is to deliver a boycott of the polls in as many constituencies as possible. Under the constitution, voting must take place in each of the 290 constituencies in order for an election to be valid. Michael Chege, a professor at the University of Nairobi, explains: “Nasa will make it impossible for the election to take place in their areas and go to court to say this is an invalid election […]. This crisis is just beginning." President Kenyatta and deputy president William Ruto are crisscrossing the country on a relentless campaign schedule. The pair have swatted away Nasa’s calls for reforms. The Nasa campaign is out of money and they are stalling, senior Jubilee officials say. Parliament passed legislation in October that makes it more difficult for the Supreme Court to annul an election and stipulates that if one candidate withdraws from a re-run of the presidential election, the other one automatically wins. Ruto told reporters on 17 October that Odinga knows he will lose the rerun and is boycotting the vote to save face. “Odinga is running away from a humiliating defeat,” he said. “He has to find this excuse and that excuse and the other excuse to try and justify his exit.” The stage is set for widespread confrontations between the security services and opposition supporters around the 26 October election as the millions of people who voted for Odinga deal with being locked out of the country’s political system. With concerns mounting, internal security minister Fred Matiang’i issued a ban on protests in the central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Kenya’s security services continue to be lambasted for their heavy-handed response to the unrest that followed August’s elections. Human Rights Watch issued a damning report on 15 October that claimed as many as 67 protesters had been killed in Nairobi’s slums and in western parts of the country. Mark Anderson in Nairobi and Patrick Smith in London
The number of constituencies in Kenya, all of which must vote in order for the election to be valid
Riot police charge towards a small group of protesters in Nairobi on 16 October