President Uhuru Kenyatta has, belatedly, been sworn in for a second term in office in Kenya. His victory was hard won, and not without controversy.

The two recent polls that have taken place in Kenya have left the nation deeply divided. In August, Kenyatta was declared the winner of a contentious presidential race, gaining 54% of the votes while his closest rival, Raila Odinga, came second with 44%. The aftermath of the vote was marked by violent protests.

A dissatisfied Odinga then went to the supreme court to protest the validity of Kenyatta’s victory, leading to the annulment of the result and a ruling that meant a repeat of the poll would be held – a vote that Kenyatta won once more. The supreme court has since upheld Kenyatta’s re-run victory.

Uhuru Kenyatta looks bewildered
The electoral cycle has been marked by confusion, dispute and violence. Photo credit: Flickr.

Controversial outcome 

The landmark ruling that annulled the initial result received mixed reactions from Kenya’s two major political factions. Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee party felt that the court had robbed them of their victory, hitting the campaign trail to encourage their supporters to show up for the repeat poll. The opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) took an understandably contradictory view of the ruling.

Early demonstrations soon turned into violent protests. Odinga called for his supporters to take to the streets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to demand – among other things – the sacking of a number of officials at Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), who they accused of bungling the August election.

As the stand-off between the police and demonstrators intensified, Odinga called on his supporters to halt the protests; instead attempting to organise a boycott of the polls if there no action was taken.

Odinga has even called on his supporters to boycott products and services from companies that are associated with Kenyatta or other companies that allegedly played a part in manipulating the election result election.

Lack of reform

A few days before the election, the only change at the electoral body was the resignation one of its commissioners, Roselyn Akombe.

Odinga’s coalition and it’s supporters used the resignation, along with leaked memos from the IEBC chairman to its CEO, to claim that there were fundamental flaws within the institution that could hinder its ability to oversee free, fair and credible elections. The IEBC’s chairman, Wafula Chebukati, also voiced his concerns as to the credibility of the coming vote.

Order to boycott

With the NASA’s demands not being met, Odinga called upon his supporters to boycott the polls that were fast approaching. The call was answered most effectively in the regions of Kisumu, Siaya, Homabay and Migori – where very few ballots were cast. Efforts by police to provide further security during the election only led to further abstention in those areas.

However, the boycott did not affect the overall result, as Kenyan law only recquires that the winner gets over 50% of the votes as well as 25% of the votes in 24 of the country’s 47 counties. Kenyatta and his supporters saw the second victory as reinforcement of their original claim to represent the nation.

A divided Kenya?

Talks of secession have now become commonplace in the country. The Member of Parliament for Kisumu Town, Peter Kaluma – a member of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), one of the parties under the NASA coalition – has even drafted a bill to divide up Kenya into the People’s Republic of Kenya and the Central Republic of Kenya.

The People’s Republic of Kenya would be comprised of 40 counties, while the Central Republic of Kenya would consist of seven; the native lands of the Kikuyu people, Kenyatta’s tribe. It is unlikely, however, that the bill would ever become law as Kaluma’s coalition does not have the numbers to pass the bill.

Hope of unity

Above all, this electoral cycle has highlighted a profound bitterness in Kenyan politics. The troubling electoral violence experienced by Nairobi’s Kawangware slum is the clearest symbol of this.

There is also a perception that ethnic background and socioeconomic circumstance are related. The reality is that, such is the gravity of the social issues facing the country, all poor Kenyans face the challenges of unemployment, high cost of living, insecurity and poor-quality housing.

A poor Kikuyu in Kenya’s central region and a poor Luo in in the west of the country share poverty as common ground, but the battle to eradicate these issues is Kenya’s greatest challenge – and one that should unite the country across its political divides.

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