Saturday, 16 March 2013

Why the Kenya election period is not over

Speaking this morning with a friend of mine working in Nairobi but originally from Siaya, he recounted how he took an overnight bus all the way back home just to vote in the election, only to return again to Nairobi that same evening. Observers both Kenyan and international have been amazed by the commitment Kenyans have shown to the democratic process but all such good faith will turn south if Raila Odinga's petition to the courts is not dealt with fairly or if the fairness of the process is not communicated to ordinary citizens.

Although Odinga has at every point emphasised his commitment to the new judiciary, tensions have arisen over what will happen if his party's petition is either rejected or endorsed. Stories such as the rioting of students in response to discovering a cache of ballot boxes - which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) says were leftovers from a pre-election simulation exercise - have unnecessarily given the impression of widespread irregularity at the polls. Odinga's petition is more definite and serious, for example picking up on the discrepancies between total registered voters and amounts of votes cast. It needs to be dealt with maturely by the judiciary if CORD supporters are not driven to resentment.

Odinga has framed this as a "democracy on trial" campaign, which heightens voter anxiety and brings to a point an all-or-nothing final attempt for him to win back a chance to lead Kenya. On the other hand, Uhuru Kenyatta has for his part said he is ready to seek a fresh mandate from the Kenyan people if the court's response is not in his favour. At the same time, Odinga's supporters have also brought attention to bear on the need to move away from citizen-level hate speech in people's use of social media, encouraging citizens to wear white ribbons or t-shirts and to call for "peace and unity across the ethnic and political divide on Twitter, Facebook and social media blogs." This is the right way to proceed, and demonstrates Kenya's hidden and yet deep yearn for unity. The success of the next two weeks depends on the Supreme Court mirroring and projecting back this profound desire.

Umoja ni nguvu, as Tanzanians would say.