Nairobi, Kenya — A US congressional delegation has arrived in Kenya to meet the new president-elect and the opposition figure likely to file a lawsuit against his election loss in the latest election crisis for East Africa’s most stable democracy.
New US Ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman said the delegation led by Senator Chris Coons will also meet with outgoing Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been publicly silent since the largely peaceful August 9 election.
President-elect William Ruto is Kenyatta’s vice president, but the two got into an argument years ago, and Kenyatta instead supported longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga in the election.
Odinga has said he is exploring “all constitutional and legal options” to challenge his narrow election loss. His campaign has a week from Monday’s announcement of Ruto’s victory to go to the Supreme Court, which then has 14 days to decide. Odinga has urged his supporters to remain calm in a country with a history of post-election violence.
Kenya’s electoral commission fell into public chaos minutes before Monday’s statement, with commissioners accusing each other of misconduct. The four commissioners who objected to Monday’s statement were appointed by Kenyatta last year.
The split came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely seen as the most transparent ever in the country, with results from the more than 46,000 polling stations posted online for the public to follow. Public counts, including those by a local election observer group, saw Ruto win with just over 50% of the vote.
Kenya’s political transition will have significant implications for the East Africa region, where Kenyatta has worked with the US to mediate in the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia and advance peace efforts between Rwanda and Congo. In his public remarks this week, Ruto focused on domestic affairs, not regional ones.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and his delegation have already visited Cape Verde and Mozambique and are expected to visit Rwanda, where Congo tensions and human rights should be on the agenda after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kigali last week.
Ruto, 55, appealed to Kenyans by holding the elections about economic differences and not about the ethnic differences that have long characterized the country’s politics with sometimes deadly results. He portrayed himself as an outsider from humble beginnings who defied the political dynasties of Kenyatta and Odinga, whose fathers were Kenya’s first president and vice president.
Odinga, 77, has been pursuing the presidency for a quarter of a century. Known as a fighter, he was detained for years in the 1980s for his pursuit of multi-party democracy. He was also a supporter of Kenya’s landmark 2010 constitution.
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