Poll protest: Opposition supporters set up burning barricades in Kisumu in the wake of the election. Picture: AFP/KEVIN MIDIGO
Poll protest: Opposition supporters set up burning barricades in Kisumu in the wake of the election. Picture: AFP/KEVIN MIDIGO

It was an expected outcome — a scripted one, the opposition might say. Last Friday, Kenya’s electoral commission announced that the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, had won the country’s presidential election with a little over 54% of the vote.

Just as expected, his rival, Raila Odinga, immediately challenged the result and proclaimed "a fraud of monumental gravity".

A second term for Kenyatta is no doubt the scenario that the region — and the markets — expected and hoped for. A sharp rise in equities and a big slide in bond yields since the election have signalled where the markets’ preferences lie.

"Kenya has built its free-market credentials over 50 years and Kenyatta’s election keeps us firmly on that track," Kenyan business analyst Aly-Khan Satchu says. "An Odinga administration would have downgraded and degraded those credentials. So I feel Kenyatta now has a unique opportunity to consolidate and accelerate economic gains."

The reaction of Odinga’s supporters in the coming weeks is less predictable. Street demonstrations began immediately after the first results trickled in, but clashes have been contained.

In Mathare, demonstrators clashed with police, and in Kisumu, a city on the shores of Lake Victoria, several hundred protesters confronted security forces, chanting "No Raila, no peace" — the slogan of 2007, when two months of postelection street fights left more than 1,300 dead, at least 600,000 displaced and the country deeply traumatised.

According to the Kenya national commission on human rights, 24 people have died, mostly from bullet wounds, indicating that they might have been killed in clashes with the police.

There is little the opposition can do now to contest the result. In the days following the election, Odinga’s opposition coalition alleged that the electoral commission’s system had been hacked. It claimed Odinga was the real winner based on the result obtained "from a confidential source" within the commission, but failed to provide proof. His party declared it would not go to the supreme court, saying the judiciary’s independence is compromised.

Election observers say they found the elections to be free and fair. The EU mission says it did not detect any signs of "centralised or local manipulation" of the votes, and has called for calm. Former US secretary of state John Kerry, now leading the Carter Center, has demanded that Kenya’s leadership "take its responsibilities", a way to underline that any incitement to violence could be punished.

Kenyan leaders know this perhaps better than most. In the aftermath of the 2007 violence, the International Criminal Court charged Kenyatta, then deputy prime minister in a coalition government, as well as William Ruto, at the time Odinga’s right-hand man, for organising the violence. The charges were finally dropped in the middle of the trial, but they left their mark in the minds of Kenyan politicians.

But perception matters as much as reality, and it is true that Kenya’s electoral commission could have managed the process better. Instead of taking time to resolve concerns about forms that needed to be signed by party agents, it rushed to announce the result late last Friday. This entrenched the impression that the organisation has been sloppy.

In a rare interview, Odinga told the Financial Times that challenging the results is "not about me .. I’m not going to be a candidate again. We just want Kenyans to know what happened, what the whole world is not understanding is happening."

On Sunday, he addressed supporters in Kibera, calling on them to boycott the state by refusing to work.

The opposition has felt time and again it has been denied victory: in 2007 because of claims of election rigging, and in 2013 because of electronic equipment that didn’t work. For it, protesting against this election is about the accumulation of this frustration as much as the result itself.

Odinga is, as he readily admits, facing his last defeat as a presidential candidate. For the son of Oginga Odinga, the losing opponent to Jomo Kenyatta, this is a story that has bitterly repeated itself in a second generation. His ultimate defeat is the end of a dynasty — the mourning of a political clan that never had the opportunity to rule the country.

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