A number of previous elections had led to massive violence, with thousands dead and injured. The one held in August was annulled due to irregularities.
The main opposition candidate, who had lost to the incumbent, then announced he was withdrawing from the race. A member of the electoral commission fled the country. Finally, the do-over vote was a farce.
This is Kenya, a country riven by tribal rivalries that come to a head at election time, largely between President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kikuyu tribe and Raila Odinga’s Luo community.
Kenya has 44 official tribes and election candidates usually form alliances with politicians from other ethnic groups to broaden their appeal, but the Kikuyu and Luo have been the backbone of support for the two main contenders.
Following the 2007 election, a wave of ethnic violence lasted months, killed 1,400 people and displaced 600,000 more.
This year’s contest, held between Kenyatta and Odinga on Aug. 8, was also preceded by unrest for weeks before the balloting.
In fact, in the major cities, where ethnic rivals live in close proximity, the run-up to the voting saw many residents head for the safety of their ancestral homelands in rural areas.
It was won by Kenyatta, the incumbent, running under the banner of the Jubilee Alliance, with 54 per cent of the vote, to Odinga’s 44 per cent.
But few of Odinga’s supporters in his National Super Alliance (NASA) accepted the result. At least 70 opposition supporters have been killed since the results were announced August 11.
A legal challenge by Odinga, alleging widespread fraud, prompted the Supreme Court on Sept.1 to nullify the results.
Chief Justice David Maraga, citing irregularities, described the results as “invalid, null and void,” adding that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) failed to conduct the election “in a manner consistent with the dictates of the Constitution.”
The IEBC had refused the court full access to its computer system, which meant the opposition’s claims of hacking could not be proved or disproved.
Odinga was as happy as he was surprised. He had appealed to the court after losing the last presidential race to Kenyatta, in 2013, as well -- and dismissed it as inept after it ruled against him.
He claimed that not enough has been done to address the problems and singled out the IEBC for particular criticism, deeming it “rotten.”
As well, Roselyn Akombe, one of seven IEBC officials in charge of overseeing the rescheduled election, resigned eight days later.
She left the country, arguing that without Odinga, the election had no chance of being credible and that it had become “increasingly difficult” for her to perform her duties.
She pointed to the death of Chris Msando, the electoral commission’s top digital security officer, who was killed a week before the Aug. 8 vote; it remains unsolved.
The Supreme Court failed to hear a last-minute case that sought to delay the repeat presidential poll.
Odinga called for demonstrations on election day, and clashes occurred between opposition supporters and police, but the vote went ahead. Turnout, predictably, was low in areas that had supported him. And of course Kenyatta “won.”
Nic Cheeseman, a professor of African politics at the University of Birmingham, said Kenya was facing a “really dangerous situation” with few solutions.
When it comes to Kenya, a cynic might be inclined to ask: if elections are the answer, what is the question?