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Kenyan Poll Verdict Gets Mixed Reaction

Supreme Court ruling that Uhuru Kenyatta won presidency sparks protests in Kisumu, but business owners welcome end to uncertainty.
By Lilian Ochieng

The decision by Kenya’s Supreme Court that last month’s election result is valid, thus confirming Uhuru Kenyatta as the country’s next president, led to street protests in the western city of Kisumu, a stronghold of rival candidate Raila Odinga.

However, business owners in Kisumu welcomed the Supreme Court decision as it marked the end of a month-long electoral process that had disrupted commercial activity there, as in other parts of Kenya.

After Chief Justice Willy Mutunga announced the decision on March 30, turning down Odinga’s petition for the result to be overturned, angry mobs took to the streets of Kisumu, barricading roads, destroying property and looting shops and homes for over two days before calm was restored on April 1.

According the head of the region’s police, Joseph Ole Tito, two people were killed and 24 were injured in the city on March 30-31. The unrest was mainly confined to the Kondele and Nyalenda areas of Kisumu.

Police were able to prevent the trouble escalating into the kind of unrest that followed the last presidential election in December 2007. When that vote was disputed, 1,100 people were killed and more than half a million lost their homes in bloodshed that spread across Kenya. Kisumu was particularly badly affected.

The six Supreme Court judges who heard the appeal by Odinga, the former prime minister who was nominated by the Coalition for Reform and Democracy, CORD, unanimously rejected arguments that the March 4 vote was flawed and that a fresh ballot should be held.

Judges ruled that Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, IEBC, had conducted the poll in a free and fair manner and there were no grounds for a re-run. They will issue their full ruling in two weeks’ time.

Kenyatta, running on behalf of the Jubilee Coalition, secured victory with 50.1 per cent of the vote against Odinga’s 43.3 per cent.

He and his electoral running-mate William Ruto both face trial at the International Criminal Court, ICC, in The Hague for their alleged role in orchestrating the 2007-08 bloodshed. A third suspect, Joshua Arap Sang, also faces trial for the violence.

Local businessman Michael Mwangi fled his home in the Kondele district and took refuge overnight at a local police station. He told IWPR that protesters broke into his warehouse and looted property.

Mwangi said the ordeal brought back memories of the last election five years ago.

“I have lived in Kisumu now for 19 years, and it really disheartens me that every five years after elections is marked by loss of property,” he said.

Collins Oduor, a member of a local political group known as the “Peoples’ Parliament”, said it was going to be hard to accept that Odinga had lost.

“We are so heartbroken by the verdict and it will take me, as a person, time to accept that Kenyatta is my president. I cannot accept this but I will just live and do my work normally,” he said.

Rylina Omondi, another CORD supporter, said news of the verdict had saddened her whole family, and she had little faith that in this part of Kenya, the new president would live up to his election pledges, for example to create new jobs. Previous Kenyan governments have tended to funnel support into their own ethnic constituencies base while marginalising others.

“I know that there will be no fair allocation of jobs with Kenyatta’s rule. We could have just had a run-off so that CORD supporters could fairly vote in Raila Odinga as president,” she said.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Kenyatta made a speech calling for peace and unity, and promising to treat everyone even-handedly.

“I will serve all Kenyans without discrimination,” he said. “We should now move on past the elections and build our nation.”

Odinga was quick to accept the court’s verdict and to congratulate Kenyatta on his win.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is final. We must soldier on with respect to supremacy of the constitution. God bless Kenya,” he said.

Kenyatta will be sworn in as president on April 9.

In contrast to those who took to the streets, business people in Kisumu were pleased that the Supreme Court decision brought an end to a protracted electoral process that began almost a month ago.

If Odinga’s appeal against the outcome had been upheld, Kenyans would have had to vote all over again in a fresh ballot.

Since the March 4 vote, trade has declined steadily in the western province of Nyanza, where Kisumu is the main urban centre. Many suppliers from elsewhere have stayed away, fearing a repeat of the unrest of 2007-08.

“I am glad that this is all over. We can now resume business,” Richard Mugala, who sells secondhand clothes at Kisumu’s Oile market, said. “For those fearing to set base in Kisumu – please do not [fear] because you are all welcome to help us build our county.”

Other business owners voiced a similar sense of relief.

Robinson Anyal, chairman of a local association of hotel managers, said his industry had recorded major losses in recent weeks as local and international tourist numbers fell away.

“The verdict was better the way it was delivered, so that it could bring a stop to this prolonged political era,” Anyal said.

Religious leaders in Nyanza called for calm and said there was no reason to cry foul over the Supreme Court’s decision.

Bishop Francis Mwayi Abiero told residents to respect the new constitution which voters backed in 2010. He also pointed to new structures under the constitution that will see powers devolved to county-level governments.

‘‘It does not matter whom we elect as the president of this country. The constitution allowed us to elect a leader of our choice.” Bishop Abiero said. “Kenyans should just move on and appreciate the current constitution, which is going to empower them in their counties.”

Lilian Ochieng is a reporter for and the Daily Nation in Kisumu.

This article was produced as part of a media development programme by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation in partnership with Nation Media.