Opinion: A new era for Kenya | Africa | DW | 31.03.2013
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Opinion: A new era for Kenya

Kenya's Supreme Court has upheld the results of the presidential election. Uhuru Kenyatta will now be inaugurated on April 9. DW's Andrea Schmidt says that recent events constitute a milestone for the country.

Schmidt, Andrea Multimediadirektion REGIONEN, Afrika - Kisuaheli DW2_8372. Foto DW/Per Henriksen 18.10.2012

Andrea Schmidt

Kenya is heaving a sigh of relief. This is a historical event for the East African nation. For more than three weeks now it has been on tenterhooks, waiting to hear whether the election of 4 March would be upheld. Both civil society groups and Uhuru Kenyatta's opponent, the current prime minister, Raila Odinga, complained of election fraud after the first results were announced. As after the last election, in 2007, Odinga believed he had been cheated of victory. There were serious fears that, once again, there would be a major outbreak of violence. Back in 2007 the country was teetering on the brink of civil war: more than 1,200 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were driven from their homes.

A true democrat

This election was a test not only for Kenyan democracy, but also for the newly-reformed judiciary. And Kenya passed the test.

The Supreme Court's decision means that the Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, who has a reputation as a resolute defender of human rights, has cleared the way for Uhuru Kenyatta to be sworn in as the fourth president of Kenya on April 9. After the court's decision was announced, Kenyatta's main rival, Raila Odinga, who was standing as a presidential candidate for the third and probably last time, showed himself a true democrat. He accepted the court's decision, and presented his best wishes to the future president.

That's something Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, and one of the richest men in Kenya, is going to need. Major challenges await him in his own country, while at the same time both he and his designated vice-president, William Ruto, will be tried at the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of crimes against humanity.

President in absentia?

Both are accused of inciting their followers to violence after the elections in 2007. Ruto's trial begins in May, Kenyatta's in July. Both have steadfastly denied the accusations, but have assured the ICC of their cooperation. The chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is demanding that they both appear before the court in person.

Which raises the question of how the newly-elected president and his designated deputy are supposed to run the country if they both have to remain in the Hague for a considerable period of time? Kenyans are well-known for finding inventive new ways of doing things by cell phone, be it mobile money transfers or mobile insurance, and they're already joking that the new president will govern the country via Skype.

If the two men are found guilty, this would have a destabilizing effect beyond Kenya itself. The country is of central importance for stability in the East African region, as it shares a long border with neighboring Somalia and is regarded as a kind of bulwark against the militant Islamists of the al-Shabaab militia.

Winning people's trust

Kenyatta, who won the election with a narrow majority of 50.07 percent, must also now prove that he is the president for all Kenyans. He is an ethnic Kikuyu, which is the largest ethnicity in the country; but he must win the trust of all the ethnic groups.

He must revoke the unfair allocation of land, which has disadvantaged other ethnic communities. This has to be right at the top of his political agenda. Furthermore, he needs to speed up important reforms aimed at establishing a new constitution. It is particularly important that he shed light on human rights abuses by the police and punish the perpetrators. The deep rifts and the mistrust between different ethnic groups in this multiethnic state must finally be overcome.

For the Kenyan people, the decision by the High Court is a hard-earned milestone along the road towards full democratization. All those who stood in line outside the polling stations on March 4, waiting for hours to cast their vote and exercise their democratic right, have been rewarded: A new era has begun.

Andrea Schmidt is head of DW's Kiswahili Service.

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