In Kenya, dancing, doubt, and sighs of relief as Kenyatta wins presidency

Uhuru Kenyatta got 50.07 percent in an election that stood in sharp contrast to the 2007 vote, which saw deadly outbreaks of violence. His opponent has said he'll challenge the results. 

Ben Curtis / AP
Kenya's President-Elect Uhuru Kenyatta waves to supporters after leaving the National Election Center in Nairobi, Kenya, Saturday, March 9. He won 50.07 percent of the vote to be Kenya's next president.

Uhuru Kenyatta is poised to become the country's next leader, in an election that has raised concerns about vote-rigging and whose results are being challenged by opponent Raila Odinga

Supporters of Mr. Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's founding president, celebrated his election victory with singing and dancing after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared that the Jubilee Alliance Coalition candidate had won 50.07 percent of the vote, narrowly avoiding a runoff. The election saw a record turnout estimated at 82 percent. Some said it may also be the highest turnout ever in Africa.

Even as the celebrations by supporters got under way, however, Mr. Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) told a news conference that he will immediately challenge the results in the Supreme Court, saying democracy was on trial in Kenya.

“The figures in some of my strongholds were reduced, while those of [Kenyatta's] Jubilee were increased,” said Mr. Odinga, citing as an example Dhiwa Constituency in his stronghold of Nyanza County.

For many ordinary Kenyans, however, the declaration of a winner after a tense week of tallying votes came as a relief, given the backdrop of the previous election in 2007, which erupted into violence that killed more than 1,100 people.  

“The President elect is leader for all, and I think he has been elected through a fair contest. Those who have lost the election should concede. I did not vote for Kenyatta, but I will support him. He is my president,” says John Otieno, a young auto-parts dealer who had traveled to Nairobi from the western city of Kisumu, about 350 kilometers (210 miles) away. “I urge all Kenyans to unite and accept the polls. I want the president to embrace all parts of Kenya, even the regions that did not vote for him." 

 Tabitha Ndigirigi, a longtime trader and CORD supporter, was not so charitable, arguing that there had been fraud in counting the votes.

“The win is not authentic. I challenge it. I think the vote has been stolen,” says Ms. Ndigirigi.

But Peter Mwangi, a security guard in Nairobi who voted for Odinga, says he thinks lodging a suit would be futile. Although he is disappointed, he is joining the celebrations.

“We saw the rigorous vote-counting process and I think the outcome is agreeable," he says. "I hope the president can create more jobs. He must also deal with insecurity cross the country.” 

Odinga supporter Marita Odhiambo echoed his view. "This is a very peaceful process. We feel it in our hearts and even our minds," adding that she wants Kenyatta to focus on making education affordable for all Kenyans.

In his declaration of victory, Kenyatta tried to reach out to all his countrymen. “I will be a president of the 40 million Kenyans,” he said, referring to the total population.

"This is a coming of age for Kenya," he argued. "Despite the misgivings of many in the world, we have demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectation. We voted in peace, we upheld order and respect for the rule of law, and maintained the fabric of our society."

Many observers have questioned how the world will deal with the soon-to-be president, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court. But Kenyatta backers were not worrying about that on Saturday.

“I am very happy! I was in school during the last election which turned violent, but when I look at the way voted, I am convinced our country will progress,” says Kennedy Njuguna, a young florist selling roses and carnations at the Nairobi’s City Market. “I want him to ensure peace prevails and also deal with the 'big problem' of tribalism.”

For religious leaders, the peaceful outcome spoke to work they did ahead of the vote to encourage calm. 

Roman Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir of Eldoret says Kenyans have spoken and those who lost should accept the results.

“I knew it will be peaceful long ago. We had done a lot peace building at the grassroots,” says Bishop Korir, whose area in Rift Valley suffered most of the violence in 2007.

That is good news for businesses as well. At a bazaar in Nairobi selling curios and handcrafts for tourists, Eunice Wanjiru had kept her business open out of confidence in her countrymen's ability to conduct a democratic and peaceful vote.

“I am happy,” says Ms. Wanjiru who voted for Jubilee Alliance. “This will help our business which depends a lot on tourists and foreigner.”

As for the kids, Kenyatta's win means one thing: the prospect of receiving solar-powered laptops, which the president-elect promised every school-going child.

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