US senator urges peaceful transition of power in Kenya

Electoral commission publicly split minutes before Monday’s declaration, with commissioners accusing each other of misconduct

US Senator Chris Coons urged departing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to in a "peaceful transition of power". AP
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A US senator on Thursday said he urged departing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to take part in a "peaceful transition of power" amid the latest electoral crisis for East Africa’s previously most stable democracy.

Mr Kenyatta has been publicly silent since the August 9 election, adding to anxiety in the nation with the losing candidate Raila Odinga likely to file a court challenge to fight the results.

“I’ll let the president speak for himself, but that was certainly a hope I expressed today,” US Senator Chris Coons told AP after meeting Mr Kenyatta.

Mr Coons said they discussed ways in which Mr Kenyatta could play a “constructive peacemaking role” after leaving office.

President-elect William Ruto is Mr Kenyatta's deputy president, but the pair fall our years ago. Mr Kenyatta backed Mr Odinga in the election.

Mr Odinga has said he is exploring “all constitutional and legal options” to challenge his close election loss.

His campaign has a week from Monday’s declaration of Mr Ruto’s win to go to the Supreme Court, which then has 14 days to rule.

“Obviously, the United States has had a very difficult experience with these issues for the past few years,” Mr Coons said, referring to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol as departing president Donald Trump tried to cling to power.

“I said in all three meetings we have things to learn from Kenya.”

Kenya's president-elect William Ruto says there is 'no time to waste', ahead of a possible legal challenge

Mr Kenyatta told Mr Coons that Kenya would uphold “its position of a shining example of democracy in the continent by maintaining peace during this transition period", his office said.

Mr Odinga has urged his supporters to remain calm, in a country with a history of post-election violence.

Kenya’s electoral commission publicly split in chaos just minutes before Monday’s declaration, with commissioners accusing each other of misconduct.

The four commissioners who objected to Monday’s declaration were appointed by Mr Kenyatta last year.

The split came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the country’s most transparent. Results from the more than 46,000 polling stations were posted online for the public to follow.

Public tallies, including one by a local election observer group, added up to a win for Mr Ruto with just over 50 per cent of the vote.

The political transition in Kenya will have significant impact on the East Africa region, where Mr Kenyatta had been working with the US to try to mediate in Ethiopia’s conflict in Tigray and promoting peace efforts between Rwanda and Congo.

Mr Ruto this week has focused on domestic matters, not regional ones.

He appealed to Kenyans by making the election about economic differences and not the ethnic divisions that have long marked the country’s politics, with sometimes deadly results.

Mr Ruto portrayed himself as an outsider from humble beginnings defying the political dynasties of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, whose fathers were Kenya’s first president and vice president, respectively.

Mr Odinga has pursued the presidency for 25 years. He was detained for years in the 1980s over his push for multiparty democracy and was also a supporter of Kenya’s groundbreaking 2010 constitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

The Mathare neighbourhood in Nairobi, where there have been protests after the announcement of the presidential election result. Reuters
Updated: August 18, 2022, 7:34 PM