Almost 20 million Kenyans go to the polls to elect lawmakers, 47 county governors and the country’s president. By virtue of Kenya being East Africa’s biggest economy, its election is being keenly followed across Africa and beyond.
Kenya is one of the few countries on the continent with a democratic tradition, where citizens shape their future through elections every five years.
Despite suspicion in past elections, international observers had reported that the irregularities did not sway the wishes of the people. That was until 2007, when post-election violence left an indelible blot on the country’s political maturity. The violence left 1,300 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Despite the collapse of crimes against humanity cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and four others, it is a statement of how slowly justice has moved that restitution for some of those displaced then is in the campaign agenda a decade later.
From the ashes of the violence, however, rose a raft of reforms that helped the country navigate the presidential election outcome in 2013 with the aggrieved loser Raila Odinga seeking redress through the courts. This set a bar — resolving election courts through the judiciary rather than the streets — the country cannot afford to drop below now or in the future.
This realisation has informed the peace building efforts of civil society, churches and the international community.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and other state agencies involved in elections have done more than at any other time to build confidence among the electorate that the polls will be free and fair. This is as it should be. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the two protagonists — President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga — and their lieutenants.
With the electorate polarised along ethnic lines, the last thing one would want to hear from a podium are stereotypes or attacks on communities based on their political affiliation. Yet President Kenyatta has done that. Or allegations of the military being mobilised to play a partisan role in the elections as Mr Odinga has made.
While both have said they will concede defeat if they lose, it has been with a pregnant caveat that the election has to be free and fair.
With the extremes to which Kenya has gone to deploy technology in the usually troublesome voting and tallying of ballots, the leaders should be at the forefront in expressing faith in the systems.
This does two things: It encourages supporters to turn up to vote and dissuades them from taking the law into their own hands should the outcome go against them. It is only then that the leaders, if aggrieved, would assemble their legal teams for a face-off in court.
Leaders should realise as the campaigns end, polling takes place and winners are announced, that they have the responsibility to protect the stability of the country and enhance its democratic credentials beyond the benchmark set in 2013.
This they can fulfill by perpetuating peace and respecting institutions such as the electoral body and the courts that were constituted to judiciously resolve electoral disputes as they arise.