Why Anxiety Is High Over Kenya’s Election Result: QuickTake Q&A

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Supporters of Kenya's embattled opposition leader Raila Odinga, scuffle with a man who scoffed at their claims of election rigging as they staged a demonstration outside The Supreme Court in Nairobi on Aug. 18.

Photographer: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

A legal battle is being waged in Kenya over the outcome of Aug. 8 presidential elections, which pitted incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. While Kenyatta was declared the winner in the first round, Odinga alleged that the result was rigged. Violent street protests broke out after the announcement of the results, but tension has abated since the opposition’s Aug. 16 announcement that it would challenge the results in the Supreme Court. Ongoing turmoil in East Africa’s largest economy would be felt across the region, particularly in landlocked Uganda and Rwanda, which rely heavily on Kenya’s ports and roads to access international markets.

1. What are the opposition’s complaints?

Odinga alleges that hackers manipulated the vote count by gaining access to the election computer system and introducing an algorithm to ensure Kenyatta maintained a lead throughout the count. He’s also complained that the commission released tallies without securing supporting documents from polling stations, some results were altered and fabricated and the ballots counted in some areas exceeded the number of registered voters. The commission denies that its systems or the outcome were tampered with.

2. How grave is the danger of violence?

There have been several clashes between security forces and protesters in parts of Nairobi, the capital, and opposition strongholds in western Kenya. The opposition says more than 100 people have died. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights put the death toll at 24, while the Kenya Red Cross said it confirmed 17 fatalities. The police say there have been 10 deaths in Nairobi and hasn’t released fatality numbers in other areas. Kenyatta and Odinga have both called for an end to the violence. The unrest that followed a disputed vote in 2007 illustrated just how ugly the situation can get -- at least 1,100 people died and about 350,000 were forced to flee their homes. The economy also took a hammering, with the growth rate slumping to 1.7 percent in 2008 from 7.1 percent a year earlier.

3. What did the observers say?

The Elections Observation Group, which comprises Kenyan civil-rights and religious organizations and deployed 8,300 people to monitor the vote, says its parallel vote tallies from 1,692 polling stations were consistent with the official results. While election monitors from the African Union, European Union and the Commonwealth say voting was peaceful, free and fair, they’ve yet to pronounce on the count. The EU observer mission called for the prompt release of the original results that were signed off on at the polling stations, which it says would help promote transparency and highlight any anomalies.

4. What happens next?

The Supreme Court has 14 days to deliver a ruling after the opposition files its petition challenging the election outcome. Should it find that the vote was flawed, another election must be held within 60 days. Kenyatta will be sworn in on Sept. 12 if the case is dismissed. Odinga has said the court case isn’t necessarily the end of the matter and his supporters will continue with peaceful protests until justice is done.

5. What is Kenyatta’s record?

Kenya’s economy has expanded an average 5.7 percent a year since 2013, as the country reaped the benefits of lower energy prices and improved transportation links. Kenyatta’s government has also spurred growth by encouraging the development of the tourism, agriculture, services and manufacturing industries, and made some headway in improving access to education and health care. His opponents accuse him of not doing enough to cushion the poor from a drought and soaring food prices and of failing to stamp out widespread corruption. Kenya dropped six places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year, putting it among 30 countries seen as the world’s most corrupt.

6. What did Odinga promise to do differently?

Odinga made the fight against corruption and poverty the centerpiece of his campaign. His other pledges included introducing measures to assist small-scale businesses and farmers and incentives to manufacturers to help boost export-oriented growth. He also said he’d consider establishing tax cuts to woo foreign investors and scrapping a law imposed by Kenyatta in August that prevents commercial lenders from providing loans at more than four percentage points above the central bank rate. His National Super Alliance is made up of five opposition parties.

7. What were the key campaign issues?

Respondents in a Kenya Ipsos survey said the most serious concerns were high living costs, corruption, a lack of jobs and the drought. 

The Reference Shelf

  • A who’s who guide to the main political players.
  • A Bloomberg story on the election challenges that confronted the ruling party in the Rift Valley and another on how criminal gangs have been terrorizing residents of a Nairobi slum since the vote.
  • A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch report on what happened in the 2007 election.
  • A Bloomberg QuickTake wonders whether the U.S. can catch up to Kenya on mobile payments.
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