NAIROBI: Deputy President William Ruto was Monday declared winner of Kenya’s hard-fought presidential poll but the announcement was mired in controversy after several members of the election commission rejected the results.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati said Ruto had won almost 7.18 million votes (50.49 percent) in the August 9 vote, against 6.94 million (48.85 percent) for his rival Raila Odinga.
“I stand before you despite intimidation and harrassment. I have done my duty according to the laws of the land,” Chebukati said.
“In accordance with the law, I... hereby declare that Ruto William Samoei has been duly elected as the president.”
Shortly before his announcement, four out of seven IEBC commissioners said they could not recognise the results, raising rigging fears in the closely-watched poll in the East African political and economic powerhouse.
Ruto is a 55-year-old rags-to-riches businessman who had characterised the vote as a battle between ordinary “hustlers” and “dynasties” who had ruled Kenya since independence from Britain in 1963.
After the results were announced, he vowed to work with “all leaders” in Kenya.
“There is no room for vengeance,” Ruto said, adding: “I am acutely aware that our country is at a stage where we need all hands on deck.”
The outcome was a bitter blow for Odinga, the 77-year-old veteran opposition leader who had the weight of the ruling party behind him after forging a 2018 pact with outgoing President Uhuru Kenyatta in a stunning shift of allegiances.
The days-long wait for the outcome of the race had already set the East African nation on edge.
But in a shock announcement, IEBC vice chair Juliana Cherera told reporters that she and three of her colleagues could not “take ownership of the result that will be announced,” calling the process “opaque”.
“However we have an open door that people can go to court and because of the same we urge Kenyans to be peaceful because the rule of the law is going to prevail,” she added.
As confusion reigned, scuffles broke out at the IEBC’s heavily guarded national tallying centre in Nairobi, where some people were seen throwing chairs shortly before Chebukati’s announcement.
Although last Tuesday’s poll passed off largely peacefully in the regional political and economic powerhouse, memories of vote-rigging and deadly violence in 2007-08 and 2017 still loom large.
The IEBC had been under intense pressure to deliver a clean election after it faced stinging criticism of its handling of the 2017 election.
Kenyans voted in six elections to choose a new president as well as senators, governors, lawmakers, women representatives and some 1,500 county officials.
Kenyatta, the 60-year-old son of the first post-independence president, has served two terms and could not run again.
The winner of the presidential race needed to secure 50 percent plus one vote and at least a quarter of the votes in 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties.
Observers say that with the race so close, an appeal to the Supreme Court by losing candidate Odinga is almost certain, meaning it could be many weeks before a new president takes office.
Turnout on polling day was lower than expected at around 65 percent of Kenya’s 22 million registered voters, compared with about 78 percent in the last election in 2017.
Observers blamed disenchantment with the political elite, particularly among young people in a country battling a severe cost-of-living crisis and a punishing drought that has left millions hungry.
Lawyer David Mwaure - one of the four presidential candidates along with former spy George Wajackoyah - conceded on Sunday, endorsing Ruto, whose party won a key gubernatorial race when Johnson Sakaja secured control of Nairobi, Kenya’s richest city.
In a historic first for Africa, the result of the 2017 election was annulled by the Supreme Court after Odinga challenged the outcome.
Dozens of people were killed in the chaos that followed the election, with police brutality blamed for the deaths.
Kenyatta went on to win the October rerun after a boycott by Odinga.
The worst electoral violence in Kenya’s history occurred after a disputed vote in 2007, when more than 1,100 people were killed in bloodletting between rival tribes.
Deputy President William Ruto has been declared winner, although the results have been rejected by some members of the electoral commission and a court battle seems likely.
End of Kenyatta era: Kenya became independent from Britain on December 12, 1963, scarred by the 1952-1960 Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule that left at least 10,000 people dead.
Independence struggle icon Jomo Kenyatta was appointed Kenya’s first post-colonial leader. He died in office in August 1978, succeeded by his vice president Daniel arap Moi.
In late 1991 Moi abandoned single-party rule and won presidential elections in 1992 and 1997.
Mwai Kibaki then swept into power in 2002 and went on to win re-election in 2007 against Raila Odinga, Ruto’s main rival in last week’s poll.
Disputes over the 2007 vote count sparked the worst political violence since independence, with more than 1,100 people killed in ethnic clashes.
Jomo Kenyatta’s son Uhuru Kenyatta defeated Odinga in elections in 2013 despite being charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the violence.
The court dropped its case against him in 2014 and Kenyatta was re-elected in 2017, after the Supreme Court annulled his initial victory and Odinga boycotted the rerun.
Ruto was also charged by the ICC but prosecutors abandoned the case in 2016.
‘Cradle of Mankind’: Kenya attracted about 1.5 million visitors last year to its wildlife parks and idyllic Indian Ocean beaches.
From the Maasai Mara to Amboseli, Kenya boasts about 50 parks and reserves that are home to native wildlife including the so-called Big Five - lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and buffalo - as well as giraffes, hippos and cheetahs.
The Rift Valley that stretches from Tanzania to Ethiopia via Kenya is also the site of major discoveries of fossils showing man’s evolution and has been dubbed the “Cradle of Mankind”.
The remains of hominids believed to be nearly six million years old have been found in Kenya.
East African hub: Kenya has a mostly Christian population of about 50 million, according to government figures, made up of more than 40 tribes, the largest being Kikuyu.
Along with Ethiopia, it is East Africa’s biggest economy with gross domestic product of just over $110 billion in 2021, according to the World Bank, and remains the region’s main trading hub.
Agriculture is the backbone of the economy, accounting for more than a fifth of GDP, with key exports including tea, coffee and flowers.
Kenya estimates its economy grew by 7.5 per cent last year after shrinking 0.3 percent in 2020 as the pandemic threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work.
It is now grappling with a cost of living crisis, as prices of fuel and basic foodstuffs soar in a country where about a third of the population lives in poverty.
Kenya also suffers from endemic corruption. It was ranked 128th out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s 2021 corruption perceptions index, with the watchdog saying its fight against graft had “stagnated”.
Athletics stars: Kenya is renowned for its athletes, especially long-distance runners, with a raft of world championship medals and records.
Among its numerous stars are marathon world record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei and Africa’s fastest man over 100 metres, Ferdinand Omanyala.
Kenyan athletics is nevertheless struggling to rebuild a reputation tarnished by doping and corruption.
Bloody attacks: Kenya has suffered a string of terror attacks, the deadliest on August 7, 1998 when massive truck bombings against the US embassy in Nairobi killed 213 people and wounded 5,000. It was claimed by Al-Qaeda.
Kenya has also been targeted by the Al Qaida-linked Al Shabab since 2011 when the Kenyan military entered Somalia to fight the jihadists.
In September 2013, Islamist gunmen stormed Nairobi’s Westgate mall, killing at least 67 people. In April 2015 another Al Shabab attack killed 148 at a university in Garissa, eastern Kenya.