Kenyatta Re-election: Five Questions to Understand the Political Turmoil in Kenya

Thousands of people attended the inauguration of President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya's capital Nairobi on November 28. The 56-year-old leader was sworn in after winning a re-run vote, weeks after deadly violence gripped the African nation as the opposition claimed the previous election in August had been rigged.

The August vote, which Kenyatta won, was annulled by the Supreme Court on grounds of irregularities and a re-run was held in October. Although just under 40 percent of the country's voters went to the polls, Kenyatta emerged again as the winner, gaining 98 percent of the votes.

Were the two elections free and fair?

A supporter of Kenya's new President walks with his dogs wearing the Jubilee Party of Kenya's material, early on November 28, 2017 near Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi. Uhuru Kenyatta was sworn-in as Kenya's new president after winning a re-run election in October 2017. KEVIN MIDIGO/AFP/Getty Images

The Supreme Court annulled the August election—a first in Kenya—with Chief Justice David Maraga explaining that four of the court's six judges decided the declaration of Kenyatta's victory was "invalid, null and void."

Although the court said Kenyatta did not misconduct himself, it said the election board "failed, neglected or refused to conduct the presidential election in a manner consistent with the dictates of the constitution."

The Supreme Court ruled that the re-run met all the constitutional requirements, paving the way for Kenyatta to start his second and final term.

"It is impossible to consider the re-run election as a free and fair exercise, and we know the courts annulled the original poll. Kenyatta's legitimacy is seriously impaired by what has happened," David Anderson, Professor of African History at Warwick University, told Newsweek.

He adds that the low turnout during the re-run was due to the opposition supporters' decision to boycott the polls, a sign that "shows enormous interest in politics."

Jeffrey Smith, analyst and Executive Director Vanguard Africa believes the near 100 percent election results in favor of Kenyatta should raise "serious red flags".

"Sadly, Kenyatta's rule has been emblematic of a broader trend in East Africa where we have seen a growing authoritarian contagion marked by runaway corruption, abuse of civil liberties and a lack of respect for basic political rights," said Smith.

How is the opposition reacting?

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga
Opposition leader Raila Odinga gives an address to his supporters during demonstrations in the Umoja subururb of Nairobi on November 28, 2017, following a denial of permission by police to the National Super Alliance (NASA) leader to hold a rally concurrently to the inauguration of the country's new president, Uhuru Kenyatta. TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

Kenyatta's main opponent Raila Odinga, from the National Super Alliance (NASA), said the court's ruling on the re-run was issued "under duress," and he refused to acknowledge Kenyatta's win, according to Reuters.

Odinga, 72, also said he would declare himself as the country's president in December.

"This election of October 26 is fake. We do not recognize it," Odinga told supporters from the rooftop of a car, according to Reuters. "On Dec. 12, we will have an assembly that will swear me in."

The opposition leader accused the ruling Jubilee Party of stealing the election, overseeing corruption and ignoring the needs of the population in vast swathes of the country.

Is Kenyatta popular?

Kenyatta remains popular among thousands of people in Kenya, a country he ruled since 2013. He enjoys the support of people from his tribe, the Kikuyu, which is Kenya's largest ethnic group.

Kenyatta—who Forbes deemed as the heir "to some of the largest land holdings in Kenya"—is the son of Kenya's founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, a legacy he will always carry with him.

"Around half the voters are prepared to vote for Kenyatta," says Anderson. "He is popular with many of these voters, but among them are some who vote for him simply because they believe he represents their interest better than [other] candidates.

As a Kenyatta, there is respect for the family name and their political dynasty, but most Kenyans realise that Uhuru Kenyatta lacks the political authority and gravitas of his father," Anderson continues.

How has Kenya changed under Kenyatta?

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta waves upon his arrival to his inauguration ceremony where he will be sworn in as president at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Kenya has enjoyed some economic development since the president took office, but the volatile election period, coupled with a devastating drought, has negatively impacted the economy.

"Kenya's economy has managed some growth under Kenyatta, but the larger projects have struggled to gain investment and the pace of progress has slowed," says Anderson.

"The devolution of power to the Counties is proving difficult to manage. Kenyatta's government has become notorious [for] corruption and mismanagement, going back to some of the worst experiences of the [former president] Moi years."

Some have expressed concern at the deteriorating human rights record under Kenyatta, who was indicted by the International Criminal court (ICC) for his alleged involvement in the 2007 post-election violence, in which at least 1,200 people were killed. In 2014, the ICC dropped charges against Kenyatta, who always denied the allegations due to insufficient evidence.

"Under Kenyatta, there has been an undeniable, demonstrable crackdown on basic freedoms," says Smith. "And given the most recent election controversy, and his perceived lack of legitimacy, it's likely that Kenyatta will seek to consolidate his power further and become even more intolerant of criticism and dissent in the country."

According to Human Rights Watch, in the past five years Kenyan authorities "have consistently failed to adequately investigate a range of abuses across the country and undermine basic rights to free expression and association."

The organization added that human rights activists and journalists "face numerous obstacles and harassment."

Will post-election violence continue?

Kenya election violence
Supporter of Kenya's opposition party National Super Alliance (NASA) react during a demonstration on November 28, 2017, at Soweto Slum, near Jacaranda Ground in Nairobi, where the NASA leader was meant to be holding a memorial service for those killed in recent demonstrations. ALEX MCBRIDE/AFP/Getty Images

Post-election violence resulted in the death of at least 70 people, mostly killed by the police, Reuters reported.

During Kenyatta's inauguration, riot police teargassed the convoy of Odinga. Some protesters blocked roads with burning tyres, rocks and uprooted billboards.

"The opposition will continue a campaign of civil disobedience and non-compliance with the government. There will of course be further incidents and, possibly, further disturbances," explains Anderson.

Political violence in Kenya can sometimes progress along ethnic lines. Kenyatta's opponents argue that three of the country's four presidents hail from the same ethnic group, the Kikuyu, even though there are 44 recognized groups in the nation, where 48 million people live.

Human rights organizations are concerned about increasing ethnic tensions between Kenyatta's Kikuyu community and Odinga's Luos.

Human Rights Watch said in October the majority of abuses it had documented following violence sparked by the August vote occurred in areas "populated by mostly ethnic Luo and Luhya communities that have traditionally supported Raila Odinga."

Kenyatta said in October his country faced a problem with tribalism, which he said was an issue "we must ... fight with as we continue to develop our country," according to the Guardian.

In his inauguration speech in November, the president vowed to build bridges among communities in the country and called on Kenyans to "free ourselves from the baggage of past grievances, and ... keep to the rule of law."