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Kenya’s Transformative Politics: Election Petitions

Raila Odinga has filed a petition at the country's apex court challenging the August 9 presidential election results

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Dominic Kirui
Dominic Kirui
Dominic Kirui is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya covering climate change, food security, culture, conflict, health, gender, and global development.

KENYA: On September 5, the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld William Ruto’s election as the fifth president of the East African nation, two weeks after his political rival, Raila Odinga, filed a petition at the country’s apex court challenging the August 9 presidential election results. 

The ruling by the Supreme Court stamped a face of Kenya’s democratic prowess in its political journey, bearing in mind that the country has been known to go wild during elections, especially so in the 2007 general elections when the country was plunged into chaos and skirmishes. 

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The electoral process was later reformed in the 2010 constitution.

In the new dispensation, the constitution stipulates that all electoral disputes be handled and decided by the Supreme Court and that candidates who are unhappy with the results file petitions in the court where it will be heard and determined.   

The Kenyan elections in 2013

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During the 2013 general elections in the country, the then newly formed Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared the now outgoing president Uhuru Kenyatta and the president-elect, William Ruto, as the winners of the president and deputy president positions, respectively.   

Raila Odinga had also contested and lost and had gone to the Supreme Court of Kenya to file a petition for the first time. The court had ruled in favour of Kenyatta and Ruto, with the six sitting judges led by the then Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, saying the elections had been free and fair and according to the constitution. 

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This was the first time a final verdict on elections had been served at the apex court in the nation’s history.  

General elections in 2017

Five years later, in 2017, the country held another general election where Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were the incumbents and ran against Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as his deputy. And this time, even though Kenyatta and Ruto were announced winners of the election, the Supreme Court nullified it, making the country the first in Africa to nullify a presidential election.

This sent Kenyans to the polls again sixty days later. Still, Kenyatta and Ruto won again, even though Odinga had vowed not to take part in the second round, saying that the same IEBC was not supposed to handle the elections. 

After the nullification of the first round, a furious Kenyatta had vowed to ‘revisit’ the judiciary, saying that the country had a problem with its judiciary. 

“We shall revisit this thing. We have a problem,” President Kenyatta said, referring to the country’s judicial system.

“Who even elected you? Were you? We have a problem, and we must fix it,” the president said while speaking live on TV at State House in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, in a meeting with governors and officials who had won elections through his Jubilee party ticket.

What followed was a struggling Judiciary, where the then Chief Justice David Maraga, who had led the Supreme Court in the historical judgement that annulled the victory of an incumbent president for the first time in Africa, complained of budget cuts and mistreatment by state officials.  

“They want to control the judiciary; they want to make the judiciary a puppet. The CJ is not accorded the respect due to his office in quite a number of state functions,” Maraga had said in a press conference in Nairobi in 2019.  

He said that his office was running out of money to allow it to run smoothly and execute its duties as an independent arm of government. 

“Unless the budget cuts are reversed, we do not have money for fuel, and we will not have mobile courts, we will not have the court of Appeal circuits, we will not be able to pay for Wi-Fi for the e-filing and e-payments, plans to automate corruption courts will halt,” CJ Maraga continued to say. 

In the just concluded elections, William Ruto, who has served as Kenyatta’s deputy for the past two terms, ran for office with Rigathi Gachagua as his deputy and were declared winners by the IEBC. 

Raila Odinga had also run again with Martha Karua as his deputy. 

Uhuru Kenyatta had declared support for Odinga, campaigning for him and against his deputy. 

Uhuru Kenyatta (left) with Raila Odinga. Photo Credit: Twitter

But, after Ruto was declared the winner on August 15, Odinga protested the results again, filing a petition days later at the Supreme Court. The court sitting at the Milimani Courts in Nairobi heard and determined the case by a seven-judge team that Chief Justice Martha Koome led.  

In its verdict, the court upheld William Ruto’s election win, saying that Odinga’s legal team did not present a watertight case to prove that there was an irregularity in the election. That part of the team had lied to the court under oath. 

In May 2017, before the August elections were nullified, the President-elect tweeted that he was prepared to submit to the court’s decision.  

“The Judiciary must be allowed to exercise its independence. We will submit to the court’s ruling on vote tallying,” Ruto has said on his Twitter handle. 

During his campaigns, Ruto promised to operationalize the Judiciary Fund, enabling the judiciary to operate independently and away from the control of the executive arm of government.    

While speaking in Nairobi during a meeting with the European Business Council Kenya, an umbrella outfit of business associations drawn from 17 European countries, in February, Ruto said that the Kenyan Judiciary needed to be independent to serve all the people with justice.

“We do not want them to be managed or be a subject of manipulation. We want a Judiciary that serves all Kenyans justly,” he said.

Kenya’s election petitions and their determination has led to stability in the country, as witnessed in the 2022 elections. And while it is admired by many as a democratically mature way of handling election disputes, some argue that it gives the judiciary a hand in determining leaders for the country. 

In his congratulatory message to President-elect Ruto, Uganda’s opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine lauded the country’s electoral process, saying it has come to age. 

“I congratulate the President-Elect of the Republic of Kenya, H.E. William Ruto. Kenya has proven that its democracy has come of age throughout the campaigns, the election and the Election Petition. The Region has many lessons to learn. I congratulate the great people of Kenya,” Kyagulanyi said. 

On his part, John Dramani Mahama, the former president of Ghana, termed the judicial process as clear and transparent. 

“Congratulations Dr William Samoei Ruto, on your election as President of Kenya. As a bearer of the trust of the Kenyan people, as affirmed in a clear, transparent manner by the Supreme Court, this is the time to unite the good people of Kenya for continued growth and prosperity,” President Mahama said in a statement on September 5. 

Also Read: Kenya Gets Historic Number Of Women MPs


  • Dominic Kirui

    Dominic Kirui is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya covering climate change, food security, culture, conflict, health, gender, and global development.

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