September 2, 2017
Democracy is a marathon, and Kenya just delivered one of the most decisive victories for African democracy in recent history. Marathons are, after all, our thing.
In a 4-2 decision, the Supreme Court determined that the recently concluded presidential election “was not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and … is invalid”.
In practical terms, this means that Kenyans will have a second presidential election within the next 60 days – expensive in terms of money and time, but worth it for a clear and decisive declaration that democracy in Kenya is maturing.
The August 8 vote was a deeply flawed election. Yet weighty assumptions at home and abroad about how democracy is supposed to work in Africa prevented many from seeing that.
Critics were accused of being spoilers or “perennial losers”. If they pointed out one of the many problems of the electoral process, they were labelled “tribalists”, or overly demanding. Apparently, African citizens should be happy about “good enough” elections and shouldn’t demand more. The public was told that credible elections are simply not for this part of the world. The eyes watching Kenya’s election were so focused on the prospect of violence that they were prepared to force a clearly problematic process onto Kenyans.
The ruling of the Supreme Court exposes how faulty this minimalist logic is. It underscores that what the elections commission, international observers and some international press wanted to write off as “irregularities” were actually significant procedural failures that undermined the core of Kenyan democracy.