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‘There May Be Violence At The End Of It All’

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Globally, it is a rarity for courts to nullify presidential election results; in Africa this was totally outlandish – that is until the Supreme Court in Kenya on September 1, 2017 annulled the re-election of Uhuru Kenyatta.

The shock that followed the Supreme Court verdict reverberated across Africa and is unlikely to die anytime soon, especially in Kenya where successive general elections have been dogged by concern of vote rigging and political instability, as highlighted by the violence that followed a disputed 2007 election when more than 1,200 people were killed.

“The Supreme Court decision for a repeat of the presidential election means Kenyans have an opportunity to truly elect a leader through the ballot  as per the Constitution and without manipulation of votes,” says John Mwandu, a political analyst in Nairobi.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has tentatively scheduled the rematch between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga for October 17, 2017.

But as campaigns for the new election got underway, the fear of violence that has characterized recent Kenyan elections has only intensified as both sides rallied their supporters.

“While one could understand the initial euphoria and outrage that greeted the ruling, sobriety should have taken over as the dust settled and the reality of the ruling sunk in. However, each day has brought a new barrage of threats, insults, half-truths and ethnic slurs that do not augur well for a peaceful outcome in six weeks,” Gabriel Dolan, a Catholic priest based in Kenya’s second-largest city of Mombasa said in a commentary.

“In fact, the country appears to be more polarized now than before last month’s general election,” he added.

Kenyatta’s campaigns for the new elections have dwelled on bashing the Supreme Court for allegedly going against the will of the majority by nullifying the August 18, 2017 election results in which he was declared the winner by a margin of 1.4 million votes against rival Odinga.

Just hours after the Supreme Court handed its decision, Kenyatta called the Chief Justice David Maraga, and the three other judges who supported the verdict, crooks. His successive campaigns have since taken on a similar pose of hard-stance politics and personal attacks both against the Judiciary and Odinga. Kenyatta has repeatedly called his rival a witch doctor, a perennial loser and one full of riddles.

Odinga has too adopted a similar fashion of campaigns and regularly made personal attacks against Kenyatta. The veteran opposition leader, for instance, accused the president of making a televized national address while drunk. He also called Kenyatta a thief who should be languishing in jail for stealing elections.

“It is unfortunate that the campaign messages have turned personal and animosity is getting to a fever pitch among the supporters of both candidates. It is no longer about policies but hate speech and insults which is dangerous as the country goes back to elections. There may be violence at the end of it all,” says Mwandu.

READ MORE: Kenya’s Supreme Court has given an impossible deadline for the repeat election

Hate speech from supporters of Kenyatta and Odinga have spread to social media, where some of them openly insulted and threatened each other.

Analysts say the Supreme Court verdict offers an opportunity to streamline Kenya’s electoral system that has been synonymous with systemic cheating.

“What the ruling did was put temporary brakes on the rollercoaster of impunity that has characterized almost every election in Kenya,” wrote Rasna Warah in a column in Kenya’s largest newspaper, Daily Nation.

“The ruling may not end impunity in Kenya’s electoral processes but it will have a far-reaching psychological impact on the citizens, who have been led to believe that peace is synonymous with justice,” she added.

In 2013, Odinga filed a case in the Supreme Court against Kenyatta’s election but it was thrown out on technicalities – leaving many suspicious over the conduct of the IEBC. Dissatisfied with the court decision, the opposition held a series of demonstrations that forced the disbandment of the commission ahead of this year’s elections.

But, with the radical court action, this time there is hope of laying bare the activities of the IEBC and restore legitimacy to Kenya’s elections.

“If there have been crooks manipulating voting outcomes in Kenya then things may be different going forward because the Supreme Court has proved impunity and blatant disregard of the law is punishable,” says Mweni Matheka, a governance researcher.

Other sovereign institutions, including the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the Office of the Auditor-General and the IEBC itself, may want to borrow a leaf from the Supreme Court and assert their independence.

All these institutions have been subject to political pressures, especially when their work went against the whims of the government.

Just after the August 8 polls, Leader of Government Business in Parliament, Aden Duale, declared that the ruling coalition would use its majority in Parliament to oust Auditor-General Edward Ouko whose office has had run-ins with the executive over explosive audit reports that showed theft and misuse of public funds.

READ MORE: Kenya’s 2017 poll: palpable tension between progress and the status quo

The IEBC has not been spared the heat from both the executive and the opposition, especially after the bungled polls. Both sides have demanded to have a say in the composition of the IEBC team that will manage the repeat polls.

But in separate letters to the ruling Jubilee coalition Secretary-General Raphael Tuju and the opposition National Super Alliance Co-Principal Musalia Mudavadi, IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati on September 6 said the commission reserved the right to make changes without being directed by any of the political groups.

“Please note that the commission is an independent constitutional body, which as per Article 249 of the Constitution shall not be subject to direction or control by any person or authority,” Chebukati said in his letter to Tuju.

“It is therefore unacceptable for you to provide a list of staff that you direct us not to consider for the project team.”

The business community looks forward to conclusion of the elections to restore normalcy in the economy. The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI) estimates that the country’s economy has lost Sh21.3 billion ($210 million) since the Supreme Court ruling, as investors adopted a wait-and-see attitude. – Written by Allan Akombo

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The People’s President

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Liberia president George Weah

It’s been quite an ascent for George Weah – from international football star to president of his country, Liberia. He was sworn in on January 22 to a crowd of adoring supporters who voted for a change, as well as heads of states and football stars, including Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o.

From one of Monrovia’s poorest slums, Weah made a name for himself as a talented footballer at Monaco at the age of 21, and went on to play for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or and FIFA Player of the Year awards in 1995. During his illustrious career that ended in 2003 he also led Liberia’s national team. Musa Shannon, a Liberian businessman and former teammate with Liberia’s national team says Weah’s temperament on and off the field was unparalleled.

“He was inspirational and expected nothing but excellence from all his teammates. He was able to get the best out of everyone. He never took shortcuts.”

Considered the choice of the masses, Weah’s humble beginnings combined with his international celebrity status earned him tremendous support from the mostly youthful Liberian population, especially the poor. In the December run-off elections, Weah easily earned 61.5% of the votes over then Vice-President Joseph Boakai.

“He is the people’s president, he is the one they have chosen,” says Shannon.

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Weah’s win marks the first peaceful transition in decades for the Liberian people. “We have arrived at this transition neither by violence, nor by force of arms. Not a single life was lost in the process… this transition was achieved by the free and democratic will of the Liberian people,” said Weah in his inauguration speech.

Although he moved from sport to politics, the transition hasn’t been sudden, nor without struggle. In 2005, Weah ran unsuccessfully against Noble Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who made history as the first democratically-elected female African president. Through his party, the Congress for Democratic Change, Weah ran again in 2011 as running-mate to Winston Tubman, losing again to Johnson Sirleaf.

Citing inexperience and a lack of formal education as the main reason for his losses, Weah earned a degree in business and took a seat on the senate in 2014.

“People speak of George Weah as though he doesn’t have a political history, so that if he doesn’t succeed they will say he was new to the game,” says Ezekiel Pajibo, political analyst and human rights activist. “He has been in politics for 12 years and there is no evidence of anything he has done for the Liberian people.”

Expectations are high. Weah promised jobs for the youth and poverty alleviation. Of Liberia’s 4.6 million inhabitants, over 60% are under 25, many of whom voted for him in the hopes of a quick reduction in unemployment.

He inherits a country that has survived two bloody civil wars between 1989 and 2003, a fledgling economy and a young population that is largely unemployed. The Ebola epidemic, which killed over 5,000 people, also showed cracks in the healthcare system. The country still does not have adequate running water or electricity since the civil war, and properly staffed schools remain a problem.

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In his inauguration speech, he made a series of promises.

Firstly, he would stamp out corruption. Secondly, he would assist the private sector. Weah says he wants Liberians to stop being “spectators” in their economy while foreigners control the majority of their resources. Thirdly, he will focus on vocational training for the youth.

Promises must be followed by action. His party has been criticized by the opposition for not clearly outlining how these goals will be achieved.

There are also doubts about Weah garnering the same amount of respect from the international community as his predecessor. “He has to exude leadership capability and have presence in front of the international community. Johnson Sirleaf, as the first female president in Africa, brought international goodwill towards Liberia. She also had a history of working in development structures. President George Weah has none of that,” says Pajibo.

Weah achieved more than was expected of him as a footballer. Liberians will be hoping he can do the same as their country’s president. – Written by Lamelle Shaw

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