Kenya's Supreme Court Upholds Presidential Election Results

Nov 20, 2017
Originally published on November 20, 2017 9:56 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we turn to East Africa. This is what parts of Kenya sounded like today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: In downtown Nairobi, supporters of the country's president celebrated because the Supreme Court upheld his electoral win from last month. In opposition strongholds, the reaction was very different. At least two people were killed in demonstrations today. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us now from Nairobi. Hi, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Kenya has been through this before. This same court nullified the first elections in August. Tell us what the court said this time.

PERALTA: Yeah, the court was weighing two different petitions. They argued that the Kenyan constitution says elections should be held in an environment free from violence and intimidation. And the civil society groups that filed the petition said these past elections were marred by violence. In fact 10 percent of the country couldn't vote at all because there was so much unrest.

Something that's really important to remember is that when the court threw out the first elections a couple of months ago, it made history. It was the first time an African court threw out the victory of a sitting president. Lots of people made the argument that this second election was actually much more problematic than the first one. There was violence, but also the opposition leader pulled out of the process just a few weeks before the elections.

Still, a ruling against the sitting president once again would've taken an enormous amount of courage. And the past few weeks, the court has been openly intimidated. Today the court issued a unanimous decision that the two petitions had no merit, but they didn't give a reason why. They just said that they had no time to write a full judgment.

SHAPIRO: And the reaction to this, as we heard, was very different depending on who people supported.

PERALTA: Yeah. Kenya is - you know, it's a country divided. Half of the people support President Uhuru Kenyatta, and half support opposition leader Raila Odinga. And that's exactly what I heard on the street. I'll play you two pieces of tape. First up is Tom Bayeye (ph), whom I spoke to at an opposition stronghold called Kibera.

TOM BAYEYE: Henceforth, there will be no peace in the Kibera. I want to tell Uhuru Kenyatta, we are not your people. We, as (unintelligible) Kibera - we are totally disagreed with your presidency.

PERALTA: And next you'll hear Phyllis Keoy (ph). She's a supporter of President Kenyatta.

PHYLLIS KEOY: They want to destroy Kenya. They want to destroy businesses, properties - half-bread, and we can't.

PERALTA: Half-bred and we can't - what she means by that is that they are not willing to negotiate, to split the loaf, to come to some kind of agreement to end the impasse. That's what happened following the 2007 elections. More than a thousand people died after that election, and it was solved by splitting the government. The ruling party got the presidency. And Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, till this day became prime minister. And you know, while we haven't seen anywhere near the level of violence this country saw in 2007, dozens of people have been killed since the first elections in August. So that hard divide means a lot here.

SHAPIRO: Is this court ruling the final word, or what happens now?

PERALTA: It's the end of the legal road. The opposition has run out of constitutional options. But today Raila Odinga said he will not accept Uhuru Kenyatta as president. He says Kenyatta is illegitimate. But Kenyatta will be sworn in next week. So I think the fear here is that the opposition will try to settle this on the streets.

SHAPIRO: And Kenya's really important regionally. Stepping back a bit, tell us why this matters so much.

PERALTA: Kenya's a big U.S. ally, and there are a lot of business interests here. Lots of multinationals have their African headquarters here. The Western world also sees Kenya as a buffer against the spread of Islamist groups that dominate countries like Somalia. And Kenya, as you said, is also important regionally. They've taken a big role in trying to find a solution to the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. And they've always been held up as a shining example of democracy in what is a really tough neighborhood. So an unstable Kenya can really rock what is already a volatile region.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta speaking with us from Nairobi, Kenya. Thanks a lot.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK420'S "SUNDAY MORNING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.