Sober as a judge; drunk as a lord! The origin of these two similes, with my thanks to Google, goes back to the mid-1650s, but they were brought to life again in Kenya even as spring sprang. When the judiciary starts second-guessing what was supposed to be the will of the majority, we all must take notice.
In an Africa first, a Kenyan court ruled against the results of an election in Africa, making history and affronting the powerful.
Of all people, the winner of the August 8 election and incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta proved that he already started celebrating victory when the announcement was made.
In an impromptu statement, he reportedly labelled the jurors’ decision as an act by “six people”, who “decided to go against the will of the people”.
Who can blame him?
His challenger, Raila Odinga, had already tasted defeat three times before; mounting an unsuccessful court challenge in 2013. Many in Kenya and elsewhere had concluded that this would go the same route.
Even John Kerry, the former US Secretary of State who was the head of one of the Carter Center observer missions, had words of advice for Odinga: concede defeat as graciously as I did following my loss to George W Bush in 2004.
Odinga persisted and went to court, after more than 20 people had been killed in post-election skirmishes with the police. After all, more than 1500 had lost their lives in another election whose results had been questioned by the same man, the world seemed to think, so this could not be that bad.
Life went on; Odinga litigated. The bench consumed tons of evidence, including 9000 pages of evidence submitted and testimonies by several witnesses and experts.
Lawyer and illustrious speaker on African matters Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba was one of those who made a colourful appearance. He urged the court not to “strangle the baby” that was “alive and well”.
The baby in question was the same “will of the people” Kenyatta spoke of after the court decision.
Lumumba saw in Odinga’s bid to overturn the election results nothing but a case that was built on stilts and bound “to collapse under the weight of evidence”, especially when only 15000 of the more than 15million votes cast in the election were in dispute.
Lumumba reportedly faced some threats after his statements. Perceived as a traitor by supporters of Odinga, apparently workers at his home in Siaya County were intimidated by unknown people. The Standard newspaper carried a story of an “alleged plot by some youths to burn the home down if the Supreme Court upholds President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory”.
“The presidential election held on August 8 was not conducted in accordance with the constitution and applicable law, rendering the results invalid, null and void,” Chief Justice David Maraga said in announcing the ruling passed by a majority of four against two.
Now that it would seem Lumumba’s home remains safe, Kenyatta has to worry about his government finding money to host another run of the elections on October 17.
The first one had cost about $480million. Even more than about the fiscal considerations, the president must subject himself to more scrutiny as he prepares for take two of the contest.
For now, Odinga has the upper hand - if only due to the vindication that sour grapes did not inspire his claims of irregularities and fraud. With his tail up, he celebrated the court ruling and took a swipe at those international observers who had “moved fast to sanitise fraud”.
For its part, the Carter Center reminded us it had “noted that election day voting and counting processes had functioned smoothly but that the electronic transmission of results proved unreliable”.
Now Africans know that even election results are not sacrosanct, as is the case in Angola.
Kenyatta should rather say less, like he tweeted: “For now let us meet at the ballot”.
Victor Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for Sunday Independent. - Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica.