Why Kenya's Election Rerun Poses Fresh Challenges: QuickTake Q&A

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Kenyan Court Nullifies Vote, Orders New Election

Kenya is scheduled to hold a rerun of its presidential election Oct. 17 after the country’s top court annulled the result of Aug. 8 voting, giving the win to President Uhuru Kenyatta. The new vote will give former Prime Minister Raila Odinga his fifth shot at the presidency, if he chooses to participate. Lingering questions over the fairness of the voting system have prompted the opposition to threaten a boycott. That’s kept political tensions high in the weeks after violent protests greeted last month’s results announcement. Any 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.

Raila Odinga on Sept. 3.

Photographer: Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

1. Why was the election outcome nullified? 

Odinga’s five-party National Super Alliance alleged that the Independent Electoral & Boundaries Commission’s computer systems were tampered with and vote tallies were altered. In a decision unprecedented in Africa, the Supreme Court ruled Sept. 1 that the commission “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution.” It’s yet to release its detailed findings. While Kenyatta said he’ll respect the verdict, he disagreed with it and described the lawsuit that challenged the election outcome as “nothing but thuggery.”

2. Is a credible rerun possible?

That’s the million dollar question. The electoral commission has named a six-member team to run the vote -- including new heads of operations, information technology and the national tallying center -- and pledged to address shortcomings identified in the court’s detailed ruling. Odinga’s coalition is demanding more sweeping personnel changes, including the removal of Chief Executive Officer Ezra Chiloba, and guarantees that the next vote will be fair before it agrees to participate. Kenyatta vowed to resist all opposition attempts to achieve further management changes at the electoral body.

3. How grave is the danger of violence?

Odinga has warned that the election won’t be allowed to proceed next month unless the opposition is satisfied the process will be credible. After Odinga alleged rigging last month, his supporters burned tires and barricaded roads in the streets of Nairobi, the capital, and the western city of Kisumu, and clashes with the security forces ensued. The opposition said more than 100 people were killed, while the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights put the death toll at 24. Ethnic 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.

4. How have the markets reacted to the political turmoil?

They’ve been spooked. The shilling and the FTSE NSE Kenya 25 Index of stocks have weakened since the court ordered fresh elections, while yields on the nation’s foreign debt have climbed. Investors fear prolonged uncertainty will weigh on growth because it will deter business and consumer spending and delay government projects and policy decisions. The prognosis may improve when the election dust has settled, because the court’s assertion of its independence is likely to be seen as proof of the soundness of Kenya’s institutions and a plus when it comes to making longer-term investment decisions.

5. What is Kenyatta’s record?

Kenya’s economy has expanded an average of 5.7 percent a year since 2013, when Kenyatta came to power, 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 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’s Odinga promising 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 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.

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 the drought and resultant food shortages.
  • A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch report on what happened in the 2007 election.
  • A Bloomberg QuickTake explores whether the U.S. can catch up to Kenya on mobile payments.
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