The Kenyan government said on Friday it will go to the country’s top court to challenge a ruling that halted President Uhuru Kenyatta’s bid to change the constitution, a source of growing controversy ahead of next year’s polls.
The sweeping reforms — popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)– have been touted as a way to end repeated cycles of election violence by expanding the executive and parliament to more evenly divide the spoils of victory.
But a High Court in Nairobi in May ruled that the proposed amendments to the 2010 constitution were illegal and that Kenyatta could himself face legal action for launching the process.
The government challenged that judgement, but the Court of Appeal on August 20 confirmed it in a majority decision by the seven-member panel.
It said Kenyatta had no right to initiate the changes, which could have dramatically shifted the political landscape with less than a year before the country votes in August 9 presidential and parliamentary elections.
In a notice of appeal filed at the Supreme Court on Friday, the attorney general’s office said it was “dissatisfied” with the August 20 decision and will launch a final attempt to introduce the controversial legislation.
It listed eight grounds for challenging the ruling, including the judgement that civil proceedings could be instituted against the president.
The proposed reforms came about following a rapprochement between Kenyatta and his erstwhile opponent Raila Odinga and a famous handshake between the two men after post-election fighting in 2017 claimed dozens of lives.
The BBI notably aimed to restructure the current winner-takes-all electoral system by creating new executive posts and increase the number of parliamentarians from 290 to 360.
But it was seen by critics as a way to enable Kenyatta — who has served two terms and is barred from running for president again — to remain in power by establishing the post of prime minister.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted and scaled back some anti-Covid-19 measures on Saturday, including reopening schools and freeing travel in and out of Nairobi, but a ban on protests remained in place.
In a May Day speech, Kenyatta cited a 74 percent drop in infections in the capital from March to April and a drop of 89 percent in the country’s second-largest city of Mombasa.
Travel into and out of Nairobi and surrounding counties is now allowed and its curfew has been shortened to reflect the 10 pm to 4 am ban in effect in the rest of the country.
Schools, which have been shut since the end of March, will reopen May 10.
Bars across the country may now operate on restricted hours, restaurants are allowed to open, and sporting events and religious services authorised with caps on attendance.
However “the prohibition against political gatherings is extended until otherwise directed,” the public order said.
The nation of 52 million people has recorded nearly 160,000 Covid-19 cases and 2,724 deaths.
Nearly 570 of virus-related deaths were registered during the month of April alone, making it the deadliest month for Kenya since the start of the pandemic.
But government statistics indicate a decrease in positive tests from 18 percent in the last week of March to 10 percent this week.
Like several of its east African neighbours, Kenya put strict measures in place to stop the spread of the virus between March and July 2020.
A second wave hit Kenya from September to December and a third that began in March is still underway.
The president said a continued downward trend in infections could lead to further easing of measures, but urged caution.
“Sadly, a surge of infections will necessitate an escalation of the containment measures,” he warned, “a possibility we all dread.”
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Wednesday ordered a nighttime curfew to curb the spread of the coronavirus, while taking a massive pay cut and unveiling tax breaks to ease the economic impact of the crisis on citizens.
In a lengthy address to the nation, Kenyatta warned he would not hesitate to take “more drastic measures” if Kenyans did not make efforts to limit the spread of the virus which has sickened 28 in the country.
“Effective Friday 27 March 2020 there will be a daily curfew from 7 pm to 5 am,” across the country, Kenyatta said.
This would exclude those authorised to move around such as medical professionals and critical and essential service providers.
Referring to the fight against the virus as an “ongoing war”, Kenyatta made a series of announcements to ease the anxiety of millions fearful of income loss in the East African hub.
He ordered 100 percent tax relief for people earning a gross monthly income of up to 24,000 shillings ($226, 209 euros), considered the average salary in Kenya.
He also cut the maximum income tax rate from 30 percent to 25 percent and the VAT rate from 16 percent to 14 percent.
Kenyatta allocated $94 million to the elderly, orphans and “other vulnerable members of our society” to cushion them from the economic effects of COVID-19.
He also called for the suspension of certain loan repayments and ordered ministries and government departments to pay $122 million in pending bills.
Kenyatta also allocated $9.4 million from the universal healthcare kitty towards the recruitment of additional health workers.
The president himself — who earns around $15,000 a month — said he was taking an 80 percent pay cut, as was his deputy, while cabinet ministers are taking a 30 percent pay cut.
“I call on the other arms of government and tiers of government to join us in this national endeavour by making similar voluntary reductions which will free up monies to combat this pandemic,” he said.
Kenya recorded its first case 12 days ago, and Kenyatta announced that one of the 28 who have fallen ill has recovered.
However, concerns are high that the virus is spreading unnoticed after cases of travellers from Kenya testing positive have cropped up in Rwanda and Uganda.
A senior health ministry official told AFP that the country has around 200 ICU beds, but around half are not operational.
Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, on Wednesday, signed into law a sweeping cyber-crimes act criminalising fake news and online bullying, with clauses that critics argue could stifle press freedom.
The bill imposes stiff fines and jail terms for hacking, computer fraud, forgery of data, cyber espionage, publishing child pornography or sending pornographic content via any electronic means.
However, bloggers and media rights activists have expressed alarm over a clause which criminalises the publication of “false, misleading or fictitious data.”
Punishment for this can be a fine of $50,000 (42,000 euro) or up to two years in prison, or both.
The Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) last week urged Kenyatta not to sign the bill, arguing it would make it easy for authorities to gag journalists publishing information they dislike.
“Kenyan legislators have passed a wide-ranging bill that will criminalise free speech, with journalists and bloggers likely to be among the first victims if it is signed into law,” said CPJ’s Africa coordinator, Angela Quintal.
Additionally, anyone found guilty of publishing false information that “is calculated or results in panic, chaos, or violence” or that is “likely to discredit the reputation of a person” can be fined $50,000 or jailed for up to 10 years.
Article 19, a London-based freedom of expression watchdog, in an April analysis of the bill, said it contained important additions modelled after relevant international standards.
However it also “contains several broadly defined offences with harsh sentences that could dramatically chill freedom of expression online in Kenya.”
Rights activists have warned about an increasingly hostile and oppressive environment for journalists in Kenya, after a dramatic and bloody election season in 2017.
“While political tensions have eased, the ability of journalists to report and comment freely continue to be undermined by state officials,” Human Rights Watch said earlier this month.
In January government closed three television stations for a week after they tried to provide live coverage of opposition leader Raila Odinga staging a mock inauguration ceremony, a move criticised by Kenya’s foreign allies.
Then in March, eight prominent columnists working for Kenya’s biggest media group, the Nation Media Group, quit over increased meddling by government and a loss of media freedom at its outlets.
Kenyan police fired teargas and clashed with both ruling party and opposition supporters Tuesday ahead of the swearing in as president of Uhuru Kenyatta after two disputed polls that have left the nation deeply divided.
As foreign and local dignitaries poured into the 60,000-seat Kasarani stadium in Nairobi where the ceremony is to be held, the opposition attempted to gather for a “memorial rally” honouring the more than 50 people killed, mostly by police, in four months of political upheaval.
However police fired volleys of teargas and beat opposition supporters, prompting running battles in the area, an AFP reporter said.
Meanwhile at the Kasarani stadium chaos erupted as a crowd attempted to force its way into the venue, prompting police to fire teargas at Kenyatta supporters who tried to fight their way in.
“I just want to see President Uhuru Kenyatta because I voted for him, why are we being beaten like NASA (opposition),” said Janet Wambua, who was among the angry crowd.
Joseph Irungu of the interior ministry planning committee had said there was space for 40,000 people who did not get in to watch the event on big screens outside the stadium. However no such screens were provided, further angering the crowd.
Around 13 mostly African heads of state are expected to attend the ceremony where Kenyatta, 56, will be sworn in for his second and final five-year term.
These include the presidents of South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Somalia — among others — while prime ministers, foreign ministers and special envoys will represent other African nations, as well as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Serbia.
– Two elections and a historic court case –
Kenyatta’s inauguration comes after the Supreme Court validated his victory in last month’s rerun poll.
However, the swearing-in may not draw a line under the country’s political crisis with Odinga vowing to fight on.
The electoral strife goes back to an August 8 poll that was annulled in September by the Supreme Court, citing “irregularities and illegalities”.
The court ordered a rerun in October that was boycotted by the opposition, handing Kenyatta a landslide of 98 percent of votes cast by just 39 percent of the electorate.
The disputed election season has split the country along ethnic and regional lines, although political violence has not reached the scale of that which followed a 2007 poll when 1,100 were killed.
Odinga, denied the presidency for a fourth time this year, believes that he was cheated and the 72-year-old has refused to recognise the result.
He has promised to found a “third republic” — following independence from Britain in 1963 and a new constitution adopted in 2010 — as well as to continue a programme of protests and economic boycotts aimed at undermining Kenyatta’s “dictatorship”.
The current political crisis draws on a deep well of social, ethnic and geographic grievances in the country of around 48 million people.
In areas loyal to Odinga, an ethnic Luo, there is a sense of having been ground down and discriminated against since independence, not least by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu group, which has given Kenya three of its four presidents.
The months of disruption and unrest, plus the holding of two separate elections, have badly affected the economy, hitting the poorest hardest while leaving the wealthy political elites relatively unharmed.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday said his victory in Kenya’s boycott-hit election re-run was a “revalidation” of the people’s will after a vote he won in August that was overturned by the courts.
“On 8th August, 15 million Kenyans came out to vote. Of these, 8.4 million Kenyans voted for me. On October 26th, 90 percent of those same voters came out once again to support my bid,” he said in his victory speech after winning 98.2 percent of the vote following a boycott by rival Raila Odinga.
“This was nothing more than a revalidation of their general will, a statement of their national intent in support of myself and of the Jubilee government.”
Kenyatta also said his August win, in which he took 54 percent of the vote, had never been called into question.
“When my victory was put to the test in the Supreme Court, this was the verdict: the court did not challenge my overwhelming mandate of 54 percent. The numbers were never questioned,” he said.
What the court had queried, Kenyatta argued, was the manner in which the results were transmitted.
“What the court questioned was the process of declaring my victory. Because the court did not question my victory, they, by extension, with their ruling, validated my 54 percent numbers.”
But Thursday’s vote was fraught with problems. Polling was prevented by violent demonstrations in four western counties where Odinga supporters had widely observed a boycott.
And with turnout among Kenya’s 19.6 million registered voters standing at just 38.8 percent, there are likely to be questions over the credibility of the election, analysts say.
Kenya’s election chief was to announce on Sunday whether elections will go forward in flashpoint opposition areas, where a boycott sparked violent protests in a poll set to hand President Uhuru Kenyatta a landslide, but tarnished, win.
With the counting almost done after Thursday’s presidential re-run, the results remained on hold as officials mulled what to do about 25 constituencies where voting was blocked.
There, supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga managed to prevent hundreds of polling stations from opening, prompting violent clashes with police which continued for several days, leaving nine dead and scores injured.
At least 49 people have died since the first presidential election of August 8, which was later overturned, prompting Kenya’s worst political crisis in a decade.
Following Odinga’s boycott, Kenyatta is almost guaranteed a crushing win.
But it was looking ever more like a Pyhrric victory with low turnout figures likely to tarnish the credibility of a vote that has deeply polarised the nation and sparked international concern about the future of east Africa’s most stable democracy.
With ballots checked and verified from 235 of the 265 constituencies where voting actually took place, the counting process was drawing to a close, although it remained unclear whether a result could actually be announced without figures from areas where voting was blocked.
– ‘No Raila, no peace!’ –
With the nation in waiting, Odinga showed up at a church in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum which has been rocked by fierce clashes over the last few days.
“No Raila, no peace!” chanted the large crowd which had gathered outside to hear him speak, some of whom had marched over from Kibera, another of the city’s poorest districts.
“We are telling Uhuru… the people of Kenya will not be ruled by the gun,” he said in Swahili, to whistles and cheers.
“You cannot kill people because they did not vote.”
Plans to restage the vote in the rebel western regions on Saturday were quickly called off after a second day of protests over fears for the safety of polling staff, with election chief Wafula Chebukati saying he would make another announcement on Sunday.
Thursday’s presidential re-run was ordered by Kenya’s Supreme Court after it overturned Kenyatta’s August victory over “irregularities” in the transmission of votes in a ruling that said the vote must be completed by October 31.
“None of the questions raised by the Supreme Court’s nullification of the original vote were answered by the election,” wrote Nic Cheeseman, an expert on African politics at Birmingham University in central England.
– ‘No winners’ –
And although the official results were likely to notch up a landslide for Kenyatta, “the low turnout and the circumstances surrounding the polls means that his government has gained little.
“Given all this, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was an election in which there were no winners,” Cheeseman wrote.
Although the protests largely tailed off on Saturday after the election chief postponed plans for a repeat vote in the west, tensions remained high with scuffles reported in several areas and even isolated incidents of politically-driven ethnic violence between neighbours in the Nairobi slums.
While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta — whose fathers were rivals before them — has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.
The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group and the one to which Kenyatta belongs, have long been accused of holding a monopoly on power and resources, while the Luos, among them Odinga and his supporters, have felt marginalised and excluded for decades.
Kenya’s political crisis is the worst since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.
While the dynamics of 2017’s political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.
Odinga has vowed a campaign of “civil disobedience” and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s withdrawal Tuesday from a re-run of the presidential election is the latest in a series of dramatic developments over the disputed vote:
Kenyan voters turn out in large numbers on August 8 after a tight race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga, his longtime rival.
There are fears the bad-tempered campaigning will lead to violence. More than 1,100 people were killed in politically motivated tribal violence after the 2007 election.
Early results give Kenyatta a comfortable lead but are immediately rejected by Odinga, who claims hackers broke into the electoral commission database and manipulated the results.
The official results are published on August 11 and give Kenyatta 54.27 percent of votes to Odinga’s 44.74 percent.
Angry protests erupt immediately in Odinga strongholds. The violence continues for days. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says 37 people are killed, most of them by the police.
Odinga takes his complaints to the Supreme Court. In a shock announcement, its judges on September 1 declare the results of the poll “invalid, null and void” and orders a re-run within 60 days.
The annulment is a first for Africa.
The date for the new election is later announced as October 17.
A confidential memo in which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) admits to irregularities and failings in the conduct of the vote is made public on September 7.
As doubts grow over Kenya’s ability to hold a rerun of its presidential election, the French biometrics firm OT-Morpho that provides the electronic voting system says on September 18 it will not be ready in time.
The Supreme Court issues days later a detailed judgement lambasting the IEBC for failing to properly conduct the election.
The commission announces that it has to push the re-run back to October 26 in order to prepare.
Kenya’s chief prosecutor on September 23 orders an investigation into the commission over the conduct of the vote.
Late September the ruling Jubilee Party introduces a bill seeking to resolve “ambiguity” in the electoral law.
The opposition slams the move as an effort to render legal some of the “irregularities and illegalities” cited in the Supreme Court’s cancelling of the vote.
Protests erupt in early October as Odinga calls on his supporters to pressure the government to overhaul the election commission, threatening he will not take part in a re-run otherwise.
On October 10 he withdraws from the re-run, saying the election panel has failed to make needed reforms.
But he also indicates this does not mean his battle is over, citing legal arguments his party believes will compel election officials to begin the whole process from scratch.