Kenyans worry about economic impact as Raila Odinga rejects election results

Opposition leader vows to pursue ‘all constitutional and legal options’ to challenge outcome

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has rejected the result of the east African country’s August 9th presidential election, calling it “a travesty” and saying he is pursuing “all constitutional and legal options” to challenge it.

As media assembled at a central Nairobi conference centre on Tuesday afternoon, a red carpet was rolled out for the 77-year-old Mr Odinga, who was welcomed on to the stage as the “president-elect”.

On Monday, chaos reigned as Kenya’s electoral commission declared outgoing vice-president William Ruto (55) the country’s fifth president, with 50.49 per cent of the vote. Electoral commission chairman Wafula Chebukati said two of his staff had been injured, as skirmishes took place and chairs were thrown inside the national tallying centre, ahead of the announcement.

The official count had taken nearly a week. Most of the voting totals from Kenya’s more than 46,000 polling stations were initially posted online, leading to rife speculation as media organisations and political parties attempted their own tallies, and supporters of both sides claimed victory.


A returning officer, Daniel Musyoka (53), went missing during the count, with local media reporting that his body was discovered in a forest outside Nairobi late on Monday.

On Monday afternoon, four of Kenya’s seven electoral commissioners held a press conference less than an hour before the official results announcement, to say they could not stand by the final tally, calling the final stage of counting “opaque”.

The same four commissioners spoke again on Tuesday to explain their reasoning. The final percentages given to each candidate added up to 100.01 per cent, they said — meaning there were extra votes included that they believed could make a “significant difference”. Their words were broadcast on screens in the hall in which Mr Odinga was about to speak, to cheers from his supporters.

All four contesting commissioners were appointed last year by outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta. He has been backing Mr Odinga since the two men — who are the sons of Kenya’s first-ever president and vice-president — formed an alliance in 2018.

Commended supporters

Mr Odinga, who arrived characteristically late on Tuesday, took to the stage with his running-mate Martha Karua. “We totally and without reservations reject the presidential results,” he said, calling the figures “null and void” and saying they would be quashed by a court of law.

Still, Mr Odinga struck a careful tone, adding that he wanted to commend supporters for “keeping the peace”.

“We ask Kenyans … to stand tall and be counted,” he said, but “let no one take the law into their own hands”.

Mr Odinga, a longtime opposition figure who has run for president five times, is known for not conceding defeat. But this year marks the first time that he has had the backing of a current president and the associated machinery of the state.

“This is the most organised his campaign has been and the most money his campaign has ever had,” said one supporter.

Many Kenyans remain hugely fearful of violence, opting to stay indoors and avoid any problems. On Monday evening, the streets of Nairobi were mostly empty, with businesses closing early and sending their staff home.

But various locations were marked by either noisy celebrations or protests.

In Kibera, an Odinga stronghold and Kenya’s largest informal settlement, protesters burned tyres and some threw stones at journalists. “We are used to fracas,” said Filex Aricha, a 49-year-old boda boda motorbike driver, speaking the following day. “Last night there was a small fracas. No one was hurt.”

Mr Aricha said he was impressed by Mr Odinga’s speech. “I want him to go to court,” he added. “We want peace and justice at the same time. Let them fight in the courts.”

“There was some tension but we are fine,” said Metiokio Edna, a 34-year-old mother of two who was selling clothes in a market nearby. She considered Mr Odinga’s speech “a good move, not inciting”.

Even better though, suggested Ms Edna, would be if he conceded so everything could get back to normal. While she voted for Mr Odinga and said she believed the presidency was stolen from him, “if he accepts [Ruto as president] the economy will improve fast”.

Like others, she is worried about the effect instability has on businesses and the economy, particularly in a place like Kibera where many residents live hand to mouth.

“Businesswise, if the tension continues, we suffer,” she said. “We cannot afford to lose one month being held hostage. Whoever wins I don’t care because neither of them puts food on my table.”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa