Uhuru Kenyatta, who is preparing for trial at the International Criminal Court, won Kenya’s presidential election as the runner-up said he would challenge the “tainted” vote in court.
The son of Kenya’s first post-independence president, Jomo Kenyatta, took 50.07 percent of the ballots cast on March 4, beating the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a runoff, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission said yesterday. Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose dispute of election results in 2007 triggered two months of ethnic clashes that left more than 1,100 people dead, got 43.3 percent.
“In 2007, Odinga said he wouldn’t go the courts because he didn’t trust them and that’s when people took to the streets,” Dismas Mokua, deputy president of Sadiki East Africa, a risk advisory group, said by phone yesterday from Nairobi. “Odinga’s challenge is good news this time because it’s going to be business as usual knowing this case will go through the motions of the Supreme Court and the outcome will be respected.”
Kenya adopted a constitution in 2010 that called for reforms in the judiciary and led to the appointment of an independent chief justice, after televised interviews of candidates by a vetting board, and the firing of corrupt judges. Odinga said he has faith in the independence of the judiciary and urged his supporters to abide by the rule of law.
By electing Kenyatta, 51, Kenya became the second nation to have a sitting president facing indictment by the ICC. Sudan’s Umar al-Bashir has refused to cooperate with the court in The Hague and a warrant has been issued for his arrest on charges of genocide and war crimes in the western region of Darfur.
“Kenyatta has said he will cooperate from the beginning and use the legal channels and he’s no comparison to Bashir on that front,” said Gerrishon Ikiara, associate director at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies at the University of Nairobi. “Kenyatta has been a minister for finance and he knows the importance of the international community so I don’t think he can antagonize” them.
Kenya is the regional hub for companies including General Electric Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Google Inc. and its stock exchange is attracting increasing interest from outside investors. Foreign participation accounted for about half of all share trading last year from 10 percent five years earlier.
Kenya’s economy may expand by as much as 6 percent this year, from an estimated 5 percent in 2012, provided that no serious violence follows the elections, according to the International Monetary Fund. The shilling closed unchanged at 86.25 per dollar on March 8, while the Nairobi All Share Index extended gains for an eighth session, bringing its advance this year to 18 percent and ranking the bourse as sub-Saharan Africa’s second-best performer this year, after Ghana.
“If you look at the Kenyan shilling and the stock market, it has performed very well even as the early results showed Kenyatta winning, which is an indication of what the business community thinks if Kenyatta wins,” Mokua said. “At all times he has said he will cooperate with the ICC and that gives people assurance.”
Kenyatta and Vice President-elect William Ruto, 46, are accused by the ICC of masterminding clashes after the 2007 vote forced 350,000 people to flee their homes and curbed growth in East Africa’s largest economy to 1.5 percent in 2008 from 7 percent a year earlier. Kenyatta and Ruto deny the charges and have said they can fight the ICC case and still perform their presidential duties.
Their victory will make international relations and investment “complicated and raise concerns by the West who rely on Kenya as an ally in the war on terror,” said Shilan Shah, Africa economist at Capital Economics, a London-based research company.
The U.K. and European Union have policies that limit contact with ICC indictees to essential matters, while U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, in a media conference call last month, warned Kenyan voters that “choices have consequences.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday congratulated “all those elected to office” without naming Kenyatta and urged all parties and their supporters to address any disputes peacefully. Similar statements from the EU and the U.K. also didn’t identify the president-elect by name.
For the United Nations, the U.K. and the U.S., their diplomatic missions in Nairobi are a major presence for each in Africa. Kenyan troops are part of a UN-backed peacekeeping mission in Somalia, where they’re helping the government drive out al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Kenya will continue to “recognize and respect our international obligations and we will continue to cooperate with all nations and international institutions,” Kenyatta said in his acceptance speech. “We also expect that the international community will respect our sovereignty and the democratic will of the people of Kenya.”
Turnout in the election was a record 86 percent of 14.3 million registered voters, according to the commission.
Kenyatta, the former finance minister, pledged in his campaign to boost economic growth to between 7 percent and 10 percent a year by 2015 to help create a million jobs annually. He has plans to ensure a crude pipeline is built from oil-rich, neighboring South Sudan to Kenya’s coast, where a refinery will be constructed.
He also promised to lay down a railway from the port of Mombasa to Malaba at the Ugandan border to boost the shipment of goods by rail to 50 percent of the total from the current 5 percent, and more than double the amount of paved roads to 24,000 kilometers (14,900 miles) during his five-year term.
Odinga, 68, who has been defeated twice before, claimed he was cheated of the win in the last election by President Mwai Kibaki. In this vote, Odinga said the process was marred by tampering with the voter register and the fact that his party agents had been expelled from the national tallying center so they couldn’t verify results. Ballots exceeded the number of registered voters in some places, he said.
“We will therefore shortly move to court to challenge the outcome,” Odinga told reporters, while urging his supporters to abide by the rule of law. “Any violence now could destroy this nation forever. It will not serve anyone’s interest.”
Opinion polls published before the election put support among voters at 44 percent each for Kenyatta and Odinga.
The Kenyatta family’s holdings include land as well as Brookside Dairy Ltd., which also has units in Tanzania and Uganda, and stakes in other companies including K24 television and Commercial Bank of Africa Ltd., according to Forbes magazine.
Kenyatta lost his bid for the presidency in 2002 to Kibaki, who is stepping down after two terms in office. His given name, Uhuru, means freedom in the Swahili language. He is married with three children.