On September 1, after Kenya’s Supreme Court became the first in Africa to nullify a flawed presidential election, Kenyans danced in the streets and some revelers pledged to convert to Seventh Day Adventism, the religion of Kenya’s somber chief justice, David Maraga. Then the mood darkened. President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose dubious victory had been overturned, told supporters that the judges were “crooks” and threatened to “fix” them. Chief Justice Maraga revealed that he and his bench colleagues had received numerous threats; when nearly $5 million mysteriously appeared in his bank account, he instructed the bank to return it at once. A rerun was scheduled for October 26. but the opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out two weeks ago, claiming that nothing had been done to remedy the problems that marred the first election. Then, just last week, the election commission’s chairman confirmed that his institution was presently incapable of guaranteeing a credible poll. The previous day, one of his own officials, made the same claim after fleeing to the US in fear of her life. Throughout October, street demonstrations against the electoral commission have taken place across the country, and security forces have killed dozens of people. Meanwhile, the United States and the rest of the international community appear to be looking the other way as this nation, an important US trading and defense partner, dissolves into undemocratic chaos.
After Odinga withdrew, the State Department issued a brief statement claiming that the US remains committed to supporting a “free, fair, and credible election.” But some Kenyans, including the official who fled, wonder why they have done so little to make this happen.
The original August 2017 election was overseen by hundreds of observers from the US-funded Carter Center, as well as from the National Democratic Institute (which supports numerous Kenyan election-monitoring NGOs). These groups downplayed Odinga’s concerns about rigging, and even accused him of stoking ethnic tensions, when he’d actually urged his supporters to remain calm. When Kenyatta was declared the winner on August 11, with 54 percent of the vote, the opposition called the process “a charade.” Angry street protests followed, and Odinga filed a petition with the Supreme Court claiming that the electronic voting system had been hacked and the results manipulated. The American observer groups claimed that a parallel vote survey they supported shows Kenyatta would have won anyway, but they have not made its methodology public, despite numerous requests from journalists and civil society groups.