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Uhuru Kenyatta is Kenya's richest man and the son of an independent Kenya's first president. His challenger, Raila Odinga, is the son of the first vice president. Kenyatta exceeded the constitution set threshold of 50% by 4,000 votes out of 12 million. That is 0.03%.
To prepare for the 2013 elections, security was increased, leaders appealed for calm and fancy new technology was put in place. Despite this, as the ballots were counted, the streets of Nairobi were quiet, restaurants were empty and people were hoping.
It all took place against the backdrop of chaotic elections in 2007 in which an estimated 1300 people died and 600,000 were displaced. As police shot rioters in front of camera crews and a church sheltering 200 people was burnt down, Kenya's reputation as a stable democracy, a reliable place to invest or take a safari collapsed. The ferocity and speed of the wave of ethnic violence took everyone by surprise. Would it happen again this election season? It is this question that was on the lips of many, both in Kenya and watching from outside.
One candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, bid for the presidency, despite the fact that he would soon have to stand in the icc and defend himself against charges of crimes against humanity. It was unclear how the accusation that he orchestrated the 2007 election violence would impact his chances.
Foreign nations struggled to formulate a position on an icc suspect becoming president. On the one hand they wanted to maintain the policy of isolating icc suspects. Should Kenyatta become president of this key regional ally, adhering to this policy would be challenging. On the other hand, to what extent are statements expressing these concerns perceived as unwelcome external pressure by Kenyan voters?
European governments warned the Kenyan electorate that western governments could only have limited contact with an icc suspect in the presidential office. The us secretary of state cautioned that there would be 'consequences'. This gave Kenyatta the opportunity to hit back, ironically with the direction of a British PR company (headed by a man who worked on the lib dem campaign team). He claimed to be 'concerned about the shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement' of the British high commissioner. This response offered three advantages. Firstly, he shushed foreign states warnings about putting an icc suspect in power. Secondly, his defiant response to the perceived unreasonable interference of the west and the former colonial power is likely to have increased his support. Thirdly, his new position may complicate a conviction at the icc.
Kenyatta's main opponent in the election, Raila Odinga quipped that Kenyatta would have to govern from the Hague via Skype. He was referring to the fact that Kenyatta will have to stand in front of the ICC in the Netherlands and defend himself, something he has committed to do. Other Africans on the list include Sudanese president Bashir, former Libyan president Gaddafi and Ugandan warlord Kony.
Two important questions may only be answered only when the case is concluded. If Kenyatta is found guilty how will the international community react? How will Kenya respond? One thing that Kenyatta can be sure of is that Kenyas regional importance will make a conviction an intensely complicated step.
With an 86% turnout rate, it is clear that democracy is highly valued in Kenya. Compare this to the turnout in U.S. presidential elections which have not exceeded 58% since 1968. It is easy to understand that democracy is more appreciated when recently acquired or under threat. This is the case in Kenya which has had a democratic deficit since 1969. Power has mostly been retained by a one-party state and one ruling party (within a multi-party state) until 2002. Since then severely flawed elections have shaken the democratic credentials of this regional power.
Kenya's economy suffered greatly as a result of the 2007 civil unrest. Investors pulled out. Tourists stayed away. Mombasa port and transport corridors were shut down. Economic growth dropped from 7% to 1.5% in 2008.
For a country that has been positioning itself as a regional it hub, the very public failure of the technologies in the 2013 elections is an embarrassment. These technologies were introduced to prevent the fraud widespread in the 2007 elections. The biometric kits for voter identification collapsed first due to a lack of power in polling stations. Staff reverted to paper registers. The electronic transmission then failed for unknown reasons. The ripples of this high profile failure may have effects beyond this election.
The region cares
Kenya is woven deeply into the fabric of the east African region. The election results will have a massive impact on its neighbors and 2007 harshly exemplified this. For its resource hungry and landlocked neighbors, such as Uganda (90% of its imports come through Kenya) or newborn south Sudan, Kenya provides access to world trade. When the election chaos brought transport to a stop in 2007, food, fuel and interest rates skyrocketed. Fuel prices in Uganda went up 500%. Kenya's neighboring states were crippled.
The world cares
Kenya has massive political, economic and security importance. Foreign investors like google, ibm and visa have regional offices in Nairobi. Kenya is the largest exporter of black tea and supplies a third of Europe's flowers. East African regional security has global implications. Kenya invaded Somalia and brought the al Qaeda linked al Shabaab to its knees. Its troops are still there. Its legal role in prosecuting pirates has an impact on the massive global shipping trade moving along the coast of Africa. The legitimacy of the icc will be tested
Raila Odinga will challenge the result. A win by 0.03% is not a significant one but it is likely that the courts will uphold it. The threat of civil unrest is still there but significantly reduced. Despite the embarrassing technology fails, the election of an icc suspect and the 0.03% win, the election was a success. Peace was maintained. The election was widely regarded as free and fair. The streets of Nairobi are busy and calm. Kenya's reputation is intact.