Given the confusion that has dogged Kenya’s hotly contested presidential election for days on end, much bloodshed might have been expected.
The race always a close one, pitting the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, against his rival, and deputy Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta. And the last presidential vote – in 2007 – was followed by appalling tribal violence that left more than 1,000 dead.
There were grim predictions this time, too. Campaigning was intense and largely along ethnic lines; rumours of militias hoarding weapons abounded in the run-up to the poll, and local-language radio was ratchetting up tribal enmities. For technical problems then to beset the vote only added to the escalating tensions. First, as the vote began on Monday, the voter-identification system failed, leaving officials reliant on paper records. Then counting system also crashed, but not before – possibly – multiplying the number of rejected ballots.
Amid the chaos, there has been mudslinging aplenty. Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance accused the British high commissioner of “shadowy and suspicious” meddling (a charge vociferously denied) and Mr Odinga’s proposed deputy claimed that results were being doctored. For all the warm words, however, there were no crowds in the streets and no violent protests. In fact, the fallout is being discussed in wholly legal terms.
Kenya is widely held to be the bellwether of democracy in Africa. As such, its vote has drawn global attention. Last night, the Kenyan electoral commission confirmed that it is reviewing the votes counted so far, frustrating hopes of an imminent conclusion. Mr Kenyatta retains a strong lead, though. And with both he and his running mate due to stand trial in the Hague in July – charged with crimes against humanity during the atrocities of 2007 – such a victory poses considerable problems for both the International Criminal Court itself and also for the international community that backs it. Meanwhile, the botched election has stretched the credibility of the outcome almost to breaking point. But neither caveat, however grave, detracts from the signal progress that is the calm on Kenya’s streets.