For the first time in Africa, a Presidential election has been annulled in Kenya for not complying with the constitution, resulting in palpable shock across political spectrum around the continent. It was a bombshell judgement with far reaching implication that is bound to make African leaders nervous.
The country’s Supreme Court yesterday invalidated the result of last month’s contentious presidential election and ordered a new vote. It is also the first time in Africa that a court will nullify the vote of a sitting leader. Now, it has suddenly dawn on everyone that if it can happen in Kenya, it can also happen in Nigeria and any other Africa country.
Several attempts in the past to get the court to nullify presidential elections in African countries have never succeded. What just happened in Kenya has marked a remarkable turning point that is likely to see more annulments in the future.
The supreme court upheld a petition filed by opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, who claimed the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 8 was fraudulent. “The presidential election was not conducted in accordance with the constitution, rendering the declared results invalid, null and void,” Chief Justice David Maraga said, ordering fresh elections within 60 days.
In a decision that surprised many observers, including Odinga and his supporters, four out of six justices agreed with opposition arguments that the electoral commission had committed irregularities that invalidated the poll. It also raised questions for international monitors, who had declared the election fair.
In Nigeria, Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama who appeared as a guest on Arise TV, a subsidiary of THISDAY media group, remarked that the judgement augur’s well for the justice system in Kenya, and “it sends a message that the courts will uphold the law.”
Onyeama added: “I think it’s a good thing that the court and not just the Supreme Court in Kenya can be independent and can deliver a judgement that conforms to the law.”
Asked if Nigeria was taking a closer look at the development in Kenya, he said: “Yes, we all have to be vigilant and watch carefully, and do what we can, so that we don’t have a similar situation during the elections some years to come. Yes, you recall that the last elections or two ago, there was very serious violence and killings so the whole world was watching these elections. We are hoping that the fault lines in Kenya’s elections would not lead to another outbreak of violence.”
The Spokesman of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC), Bolaji Abdullahi, described outcome of the Kenyan case as a big step forward for Africa.
“It’s a big step forward from the last election which led to violence, and a lot of people lost their lives. The contenders are the same and the violence was along ethnic lines. We are happy that this time, there is no violence and the parties felt confident enough in the institutions of the state to deliver justice. It appears that the institutions have lived up to that billing and have ordered a re-run. We have not seen violence this time, as in the last election. We are happy that this will deepen democracy in Kenya. The lessons for Nigeria are the same, especially now that there are ethnic agitations all over the place. People should trust the institutions of the state to seek redress instead of resorting to violence. It’s a big step for Africa,’’ the APC spokesman said.
In a televised address to the nation, Kenyatta said he disagreed with the court’s ruling but would respect it.
“I disagree with it because as I’ve said, millions of Kenyans queued, made their choice, and six people have decided that they will go against the will of the people,” he said.
Kenyatta said his primary message was for all Kenyans to keep the peace. “Your neighbour will still be your neighbour regardless of whatever has happened,” he said.
Odinga was jubilant as he welcomed what he called a “precedent-setting ruling” by the court.
“For the first time in the history of African democratization, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying the election of a president. This indeed is a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension the people of the continent of Africa,” he said.
As news of the court’s decision spread, cheers and celebrations could be heard in parts of the capital, Nairobi. In its Kibera slum, an opposition stronghold where some post-election violence erupted last month, hundreds of supporters danced and sang in the streets, some chanting “Uhuru must go!”
“It does mean a lot to me. I am sure Kenya will be at a better place, I am really happy about the decision,” Roseyln Aoko told CNN.
“I am really happy about today. I have not even had lunch since I heard the results,” said 36-year-old Margaret Akinyi.
But it’s not yet clear if the ruling will spark public protests.
Although Kenya’s 2013 election was mainly peaceful, the country plunged into widespread violence in the aftermath of the 2007 vote. More than 1,000 people were killed in months of bloodshed after Odinga – defeated by then – President Mwai Kibaki – claimed the vote was rigged.
After Kenyatta was declared the winner last month by 54% to 45% for Odinga, sporadic violence erupted in some areas, claiming the lives of at least 24 people nationwide.
Odinga is a longtime challenger for the presidency who has yet to claim the country’s top office. Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of the country’s founding President, has already served one five-year term.
Kenyatta’s lead counsel, Ahmednassir Abdulahi said in court that his client wanted to see the full judgment to understand how the alleged irregularities would “obliterate” his 1.4 million vote winning margin.
“My lord it’s obvious, and I’m not afraid to say, that this is a very political decision you have made this morning but we will live with the consequences,” Abdulahi said. He added that the will of the people would prevail.
Four out of six justices agreed with the opposition petition. The Supreme Court has seven members but can conduct proceedings as long as five judges are present.
The court has not yet published its full written ruling explaining why the election was invalid but has 60 days to do so.
One of the most contested aspects of the election was the apparent discrepancy between the electronic results as transmitted and the manual count.
The head of Kenya’s electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, suggested that discrepancy was the basis for the court’s ruling.
“The focus of the decision is in the transmission of presidential results. Therefore there were no aspersions cast on the voting and the counting of the votes,” Chairman Wafula Chebukati said.
Chebukati said the commission was committed to ensuring that the new election “is done in accordance with the constitution, the relevant laws” and urged the prosecution of any staffer found to have broken the law. He also said he had no plans to step down.
“The commission urges all Kenyans to remain calm and restrain themselves from any political rhetoric that may undermine the stability and cohesion of our country,” he added.
Thisday + Agency report