Kenya’s Supreme Court ruling to scrap last month’s presidential election was shaped by a new chief justice who proved a staunch defender of judicial independence on a continent where judges are often seen as being under the thumb of executive powers. David Maraga’s declaration that the Aug. 8 election was void and demand for a new poll with 60 days shocked many in the East African nation and abroad. But his announcement, after a 4-2 vote by a court panel to annul the vote, didn’t surprise those who know the chief justice. “We knew this case was coming and he was the man to hear it,” Professor Tom Ojienda, who worked with Maraga and sits on the Judicial Service Commission that appointed him chief justice, told Reuters. “He is a stickler for the rules.”
President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was expected to be sworn in for a second term until Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, said he respected the decision. But he took a swipe at Maraga’s colleagues, calling them “crooks” and saying the judiciary needed fixing.
Kenya, a U.S. ally in the fight against Islamists and a trade gateway to East Africa, has a history of disputed votes. A row after the 2007 vote led to ethnic bloodshed that killed more than 1,200 people. In 2013, a bid by veteran opponent Raila Odinga to secure an election rerun was rejected by the Supreme Court.
This time, the opposition changed tack in their petition. Instead of seeking to prove enough votes were fake to undermine the vote – an almost impossible task in the two weeks the court had to give its judgment – Odinga’s supporters sought to demonstrate that the online tallying process lacked integrity.