Judges have the last word in Kenya

In a unanimous decision overnight, Kenya’s Supreme Court dismissed the petition against this month’s election result by unsuccessful candidate Raila Odinga.

Odinga lost the election to Uhuru Kenyatta by about 833,000 votes, although he came very close to forcing a runoff. He alleged various irregularities – given some credence by the long delays in vote tallying – but the court found that “the said elections were indeed conducted in compliance with the Constitution and the law.” (A more detailed statement of reasons will be issued later.)

Earlier this week the court had ordered a recount in a small number of polling stations to check for discrepancies. It looks as if they failed to find any of any significance.

The decision seems to have been greeted peacefully. Odinga, while maintaining his belief that the result was problematic, called on his supporters to accept the verdict, saying “our belief in constitutionalism remains supreme.” The BBC’s reporter said “his words seemed designed to calm rather than inflame.”

Kenyatta in turn thanked Odinga and promised (as people invariably do in these circumstances) to “work with and serve all Kenyans without any discrimination whatsoever.”

Kenyans are congratulating themeselves on their political maturity for having sorted out the dispute peacefully. The chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, whose processes were under attack, praised Odinga for resorting to judicial process.

Things could still go awry, of course, but for now it looks as if the lesson of the carnage of 2007-08 has been learned. As the chief registrar of the judiciary put it immediately before the decision was announced, “The choice Kenyans and their leadership have made to arbitrate such a difficult dispute in our courts of law in an environment that upholds people’s civil liberties is a testament to our flourishing democracy, which we must continue to uphold and protect.”

The previous election casts a shadow in another way, however, in that both new president Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are under indictment by the International Criminal Court for their alleged share (at the time on opposite sides) in the violence. Both have promised to fully co-operate with the court.

And to return to a regular complaint of mine: both the BBC and Al-Jazeera have very good reports on the decision, but would it really have been that difficult for them to include a link to the actual judgement? Or are they just not comfortable with the idea of readers finding things out for themselves?

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