Deeply divided

Presidential elections in Kenya have laid bare a deeply polarised polity.  Uhuru Kenyatta defeated his nearest rival, prime minister Raila Odinga by the closest of margins.

By securing 50.07 per cent of the vote, Kenyatta has avoided a run-off election. The son of the country’s founding father and first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Uhuru Kenyatta is believed to be the architect of the deadly violence that engulfed Kenya in 2007 in which over a thousand people were killed and 6,00,000 displaced.

Kenyatta has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity. His victory in Kenya’s presidential elections will put severalcountries in a politically awkward situation especially if he is convicted by the ICC in the upcoming trial. Those opposed to Kenyatta are almost as numerous as those who supported him. Many of his opponents are likely to have suffered the terrible violence he orchestrated in 2007. Have their memories of those bloody days receded and their wounds healed? It is likely that Kenyatta’s victory will trigger recollections of the horrific events in that period and could revive latent insecurities among communities that suffered then.

Many have questioned the credibility of Kenyatta’s mandate. The breakdown of the electronic counting system which resulted in a large number of ‘rejected’ votes has provoked calls for a recount. Odinga has threatened to go to court to challenge the verdict. How he handles his supporters will be crucial to how events unfold in the coming weeks. If they decide to extend their challenge to Kenyatta’s election beyond the courts and allow their anger and frustration to bubble over into the streets, there is a possibility of violence breaking out as it did after elections in 2007.  Kenyatta should reach out to all Kenyans for reconciliation to begin. Empty rhetoric and gestures will not do.

The election campaign saw several politicians describing ‘amani’ or peace as the need of the hour. Many Kenyans are wondering whether a lasting peace can be achieved without justice for past injustices. Retributive justice that the ICC will mete out might satiate the thirst for revenge of some Kenyans but it will only serve to reopen old wounds. Kenya could look to restorative justice mechanisms within their own culture that could help their society heal and move forward as South Africa did in the post-apartheid period.

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