On August 15, the chairman of Kenya’s election commission, Wafula Chebukati, declared Deputy President William Ruto the winner of the country’s presidential voting.
Results showed that Ruto narrowly defeated former Prime Minister Raila Odinga by 50.5% to 48.9%, and a week later, Odinga filed a challenge at Kenya’s Supreme Court.
In a speech afterward, Odinga claimed he’d been cheated.
“The corruption cartels are prepared to compromise the electoral system, bribe electoral officials, make the security system look the other way or even kill in order to find their way to power and their ill-gotten wealth and continue stealing from the public,” he said.
“We believe this is what happened in this election.”
That claim is misleading. In fact, Kenyan and foreign observers alike said the election was free and fair, even if the political environment around it was sharply polarized.
Kenya experienced large-scale violence in the 2007 and 2017 general elections, when Odinga also was on the ballot. The specter of a repeat arose when fights broke out as Chebukati declared Ruto the winner in the vote-tallying hall.
This election was Odinga’s fifth try for the presidency. In 2017, he successfully got the Supreme Court to overrule the results after incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner.
Clashes between Odinga supporters and police resulted in more than 100 dead civilians. Ultimately, Odinga lost again in a second round of voting that October.
Odinga also protested his loss in the 2007 presidential elections. More than 1,000 people were killed in violence that roiled the country afterward.
This time, Odinga has urged his supporters to “remain calm” while the legal process plays out.
Four of the country’s seven election commission members refused to appear when Chebukati announced the results. Instead, the panel’s deputy chairwoman, Juliana Cherara, held a separate news conference and said they were “not able to take ownership of the results.”
She cited the “opaque nature” of vote counting under Chebukati.
Odinga echoed those criticisms the next day. “What we saw yesterday [August 15] was a travesty and a blatant disregard of the Constitution and the laws of Kenya by Mr. Chebukati and a minority of [election] Commissioners,” he said in an August 16 statement.
Odinga’s petition alleges discrepancies in vote counts and accuses Chebukati of obscuring aspects of the electoral process.
For his part, Chebukati claimed he’d acted “in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the land,” despite “intimidation” and “harassment.” He detailed threats against election officials, including the disappearance of Daniel Musyoka, an election officer. Musyoka was subsequently found dead; the circumstances are under investigation.
Foreign observers had already given a positive assessment of the August 9 voting.
On August 11, the East African Community Election Observer Mission issued a preliminary report stating it was “satisfied that the way the 2022 Kenya General election was conducted on the polling day, the people of Kenya were given the opportunity to elect leaders of their choice, freely.”
The EAC expressed concerns about the spread of disinformation and hate speech during the campaigning. Still, it praised election officials for their “remarkable improvements … in regard to transparency, preparations, and management of the 2022 Kenya General election.”
Also on August 11, the African Union and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa observation mission released a preliminary report stating:
“Though highly competitive, the 9 August 2022 general elections were conducted in a comparatively peaceful environment. Some procedural changes enhance the process's transparency in accordance with Kenya's legal framework and regional and international obligations and commitments for democratic elections.”
More of the same came from Kenyan election watchdogs.
On August 16, Anne Ireri, chairwoman of the Elections Observation Group, told reporters that estimates of the vote from “a nationally representative random sample of polling stations,” were “consistent with … official results for the 2022 presidential elections.”
Cherara and the other three dissenting state election commission members were all appointed by Kenyatta, the outgoing president. Though he ran against Odinga in 2017, Kenyatta backed Odinga’s campaign against Ruto.
Odinga and Kenyatta are both sons of political dynasties in Kenya and, despite differences in policy positions and electoral fortunes, they are considered part of Kenya’s powerful elite.
Ruto, by contrast, positioned himself as an outsider. His Kenya Kwanza party focused on attracting voters frustrated by economic and political stagnation.
Ruto has dismissed the dissident election commissioners’ complaints of cheating as a “sideshow.”
“There is no room for vengeance; there is no room for looking back. We are looking into the future,” The New York Times quoted Ruto as saying. “I am acutely aware that our country is at a stage where we need all hands on deck to move it forward. We do not have the luxury to look back.”
Kenya’s Supreme Court must reach a decision within 14 days of Odinga’s challenge. As Reuters reported, the court has three options.
It can decide to invalidate the results of the election, as it did in 2017, if there is enough evidence to prove that there was substantial interference.
The court could also offer critiques of officials or processes but still certify the results. Finally, the court could certify both the results and the fairness of the electoral process.