Hailed as an “example for Africa”, the decision by the Kenyan Supreme Court to cancel the results of last month’s presidential election and call for a new vote within 60 days has presented the country with a mammoth challenge.
In a stunning move, the court declared on Friday that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s reelection on August 8 was “invalid, null and void”, pointing to widespread irregularities in the electronic transmission of vote results.
A day after the historic ruling, Kenya's main newspapers praised the unexpected decision as a welcome sign of the judiciary’s independence, and evidence of a maturing democracy.
"Kenyans have struggled for decades to institutionalise the rule of law. We have fought, shed blood, lost lives and property in search of constitutional order," wrote the Nation in an editorial.
Referring to the court ruling as a “Supreme Bombshell”, Kenya’s leading daily said it “signaled the end of the era of impunity that has painfully assailed this country for too long."
Another editorial, in the Star, said the decision would “reverberate for years to come in Kenya and around the continent".
But the press also warned that the momentous decision would plunge the country into uncertainty in the weeks to come.
"What Kenya needs most now is an election conducted in a legal, fair and transparent manner," wrote the Standard, for whom the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) must “clean up house”.
"How [the commission] will conduct the next elections in the next 60 days is unimaginable," added the Nation. “[I]ts credibility has been severely dented and the public has lost confidence in it."
Race against time
The Supreme Court’s decision marks a stunning victory for veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who claims the election was rigged in Kenyatta’s favour,
Chief Justice David Maraga said the IEBC had been responsible for "irregularities and illegalities" which "affected the integrity of the election". But until the court's full ruling is released in three weeks, it is unclear what the judgment is based on.
Analysts have lamented the wait, noting that the court's final statement is likely to influence how the election is carried out, and by who.
"They've made one of the most important decisions in Kenyan history, and it's going to be 21 days before we find out why," said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of African politics at the University of Birmingham.
"The reason why this election was not well run was because the IEBC had so little time to run it," Cheeseman told AFP. "And so now you have less time."
Odinga’s NASA party has already called for a complete overhaul of the IEBC, saying it has no faith in the commission’s current members. Given the time constraints, a partial reshuffle seems more likely.
“The legitimacy of the commission is now entirely called into question; it will have to be renewed, at least in part,” said Jean-Claude Felix-Tchicaya, an East Africa specialist at the Paris-based IPSE institute.
“The question is, can it do any better in just two months?” Felix-Tchicaya told FRANCE 24. “Is it possible for a new commission to do a better job than the outgoing one, which had seven months to organize an election that has now been declared null and void?”
Another costly campaign
Another open question is what role foreign observers should play in the election re-run, their own credibility having also been undermined by the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Just days after the August 8 vote, the main observer missions – sent by the African Union, the Commonwealth, and the Carter Center – had rushed to declare the election free and fair, urging Odinga to accept his defeat.
But by Friday they were scrambling to defend their record, as the veteran opposition leader accused them of having "moved fast [in order] to sanitise fraud”.
Still haunted by memories of the bloodshed that followed the disputed 2007 election, when more than 1,200 people were killed, the international community was clearly focused on securing a swift and peaceful election. It will not be looking forward to the prospect of having to vet – and finance – another vote.
“The question is not just who will oversee the election, but also who will pay for it,” said Roland Marchal of Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), noting that last month’s invalidated election was already one of the most expensive in African history.
“I don’t know whether the [foreign] donors will be eager to spend the same amount of money a second time,” he told FRANCE 24.
Marchal pointed to evidence of a shortage of funds affecting Odinga’s campaign in particular, and fuelling suspicions of fraud.
“The monitoring of the polling stations by the opposition was weak partly because they didn’t have the money to pay people to stay there,” he said.
A test of politicians’ maturity
Both Odinga and Kenyatta have wasted no time returning to the campaign trail, and already the language has been ramped up.
Hours after vowing to abide by the Supreme Court’s decision, Kenyatta slammed the ruling in a defiant speech to supporters, accusing Chief Justice Maraga and his “crooks” of stealing his victory.
Meanwhile, the Odinga camp has described the IEBC members as “criminals” who should be prosecuted.
“Politicians should be careful not to incite the public against the judiciary," said Murithi Mutiga, a
Nairobi-based senior Africa analyst at the International Crisis group, though warning that “restraint will be difficult in this very polarized environment.”
East Africa’s commercial powerhouse, Kenya is riven by deep ethnic, economic and political divisions.
The declaration of Kenyatta's victory, with 54 percent of the vote, sparked two days of protests in the slums of Nairobi and Kisumu, traditional opposition strongholds. At least 21 people, including a baby and a nine-year-old girl, were killed, mostly by police.
"There will be anxiety, there will be uncertainty,” Mutiga told AFP. “But political leaders need to show some maturity and make sure that they don't ruin what [..] is a remarkably important step for Kenya's democracy".