Kenya: choosing turmoil or reform

East Africa’s dominant state deserves a better political future

 

Kenya, east Africa’s dominant state, is going through a period of political and constitutional turmoil which will have grave consequences for its wellbeing and stability if not seriously addressed.

This week the electoral commission proclaimed Uhuru Kenyatta president after a rerun election campaign boycotted by his principal opponent Raila Odinga. The rerun was called by the supreme court which ruled the August 8th contest between them illegal. That was won with a 54 per cent majority by Mr Kenyatta on a 79 per cent turnout. This time turnout was well down on that figure as a result of the boycott and a more general voter disenchantment with a political system in which power is too concentrated, winners take all, inequalities widen and minorities feel systematically underrepresented.

Mr Odinga has given voice to many of these grievances. He has now announced a campaign of economic boycotts, peaceful processions and other legitimate forms of resistance to be capped by a people’s assembly he compares to Egypt’s uprising in 2011, unless reforms are introduced. Several appeals to the supreme court are pending to rerun the election again. It is an increasingly fraught standoff, since the court itself has been intimidated and it is not clear whether its rulings would be accepted by either of these leaders.

The national council of churches and other organisations are calling for a much more comprehensive overhaul of Kenya’s constitutional order to provide for separation of power between the president and a new post of prime minister with several deputies to represent minority groups. Investment in this important economic hub for the region is coming to a halt because of political stalemate on reform going back several years.

Kenya’s diverse and vibrant population of 45 million deserves a better political future and its civil society has the capacity to put it into practice if given the chance. A great deal now depends on whether these two leaders are willing to step back from confrontation to allow such a reform movement develop in coming months.

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