KENYA’S democracy defied the usual expectations of judicial rubber-stamp of incumbent presidents in Africa on Friday, September 1, 2017, when it nullified the August 8 presidential poll and ordered a new one within 60 days, citing unconstitutional conduct by the Kenya Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission, KIEBC.
Chief Justice David Maraga who read the split verdict of four out of six judges, effectively set aside the tension-soaked election in which incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was credited with 54.3 per cent of the votes compared to his rival, Raila Odinga, who polled 44.7 per cent. According to Justice Maraga, the Kenyan electoral umpire “failed, neglected or refused to conduct the election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution”.
Though most international election observers, including former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, had certified the annulled election free of polling-station irregularities, violence still flared after Kenyatta had been declared winner, leading to the death of about 28 people.
The scale of violence and death toll was, however, a far cry from what happened in the 2007 election after which 1,200 people were killed in post-election violence throughout Kenya, thus forcing the economy of Kenya, the largest in East Africa, into recession. However, a series of judicial reforms appears fruitful, with the kind of independent-mindedness displayed by the Kenyan Supreme Court.
Even though Nigeria had contributed greatly to Africa’s democratic credentials in 2015 by successfully and peacefully transferring power from a defeated incumbent to a new ruling party, our judiciary and electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, have important takeaways from Kenya in subsequent elections.
For one, the presidential election was conducted on August 8, 2017 and by September 1 (about three weeks) the Supreme Court had completed entertaining a petition ensuing from it. Compared to the 2007 presidential election in Nigeria which took place in April 2007 and was finally decided at the Supreme Court 19 months later in December 2008, the speed by which this matter was despatched is exemplary in the administration of justice.
Our electoral law was once almost as expeditious as this. For instance, the Chief Obafemi Awolowo versus Alhaji Shehu Shagari post-election suit in 1979 was decided within six weeks. The current electoral law that gives possible election-riggers the opportunity to enjoy the spoils of their crime at public expense because of judiciary snail-pace must be addressed because justice delayed is justice denied.
We congratulate Nigeria and Ghana for allowing smooth transfers of power after incumbents were defeated. The Kenyan Judiciary’s independence should be emulated for democracy to take its full place of pride in Nigeria and Africa. We hope that political stakeholders in Kenya will also copy the Nigeria and Ghana examples and respect the outcome of the rescheduled presidential election.
Enough of election-related bloodshed in Africa.