Kenya's Knife-edge Election - UK, be careful

Kenya’s Knife-edge Election – UK, be careful

Forget the indecisive Italian election, the UK has has much more at immediate stake in the Kenyan elections.  It’s just that everyone’s keeping quiet about it.  The developed world’s main anti-terrorist effort in Africa operates in and around Nairobi (that’s not to understate drugs and arms trafficking through Nigeria of course).  All aid and military operations for the as yet still unsafe Somalia are launched out of Kenya too.  And Kenya represents arguably the world’s most developed mobile-platform communications market in Africa, set to be the hub and crossroads for further expansion  in not only digital communications but  land, air and sea transport . What’s more, the man who is likely to be president, Uhuru Kenyatta, really doesn’t favour the UK .  He thinks our man in Nairobi is trying to tip the scales in his opponent’s favour.

At this stage it’s looking very close indeed.  Going into the election, Prime Minister Odinga’s 2 or 3 point lead over his nominal  deputy, Uhura Kenyatta, looked little more than the margin of error and at this point it seems to have evaporated.  At the time of writing it seems that the spoiled votes will decide whether the contest goes to a second round.  That is to say, if no candidate gets over 50% in the first round then the election goes to a second.  It’s looking like Deputy PM Kenyatta may have scraped over 50% but also that around 10% of votes may have been spoiled (it’s a very busy ballot paper where 6 different votes are cast in different elections).  If the 10% of ‘spoiled’ ballots are counted in the total then both candidates’ share of the vote will drop; if Kenyatta were just above 50% then his share would drop to around 44% and Odinga’s to, say, 40%, forcing the second round which is in the UK’s interest as Odinga has a much more constructive relationship with the UK (and indeed many other developed nations).

Whether or not Uhuru Kenyatta wins there’ll be much post-election scrutiny of whether anything our man in Nairobi said suggested he took a public view on whether spoiled ballots should be counted .  To UK eyes, such a notion would seem counter-intuitive since votes are after all ‘spoiled’ by definition.  Counting them as part of the final figure in a situation where one candidate otherwise has over 50% is, in effect, to presume all spoiled votes went against the ‘winner’.  But whatever happens, it’s crucial that the only people with a say on this are Kenyan; and Kenyan constitutional experts at that.

If Raila Odinga wins then he may be embarassed to have done so with overt UK assistance, were than to be proven.  If Uhuru Kenyatta wins, then the UK relationship with a new president will have gone from bad to worse.

A period of silence from the UK and everyone else outside Kenya would  be most welcome.

Eric Joyce