Kenya Election Nullification: Interpreting President Kenyatta’s “We Must Fix it’ Vows

Following the nullification of his re-election by the supreme court on Friday, the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has vowed, a day after, to “fix” the judiciary of his country. According to the president, who intimated that he totally disagreed with the verdict of the court, but will respect it, the court has “a problem,” which he promised to “fix” if re-elected.

Following allegations of frauds, the Supreme court of Kenya on Friday declared the last month’s presidential poll in Kenya – which saw President Uhuru Kenya re-elected for the second term –  null and void, and ordered a fresh election within 60 days, as stipulated by the country’s constitution. The verdict of the supreme court – the first time in Africa that a court nullified a presidential election –  was hailed by the opposition and many, both in Africa and the West, as bold and a significant sign of independence of the judiciary. However, others, including President Kenyatta strongly condemned the verdict. Addressing his supporters after the supreme court judgment, President Kenyatta did not only denounce the cancellation, but went ahead and accused the judges of being compromised and bribed. He, therefore, vowed to “fix” the judiciary:

“We shall revisit this thing. We clearly have a problem……Who even elected you? Were you? We have a problem and we must fix it.” Mr. Kenyatta said of the judiciary – many believe, he meant specifically, the supreme court judges, whom he branded “crook”  who were “paid by foreigners and other fools”  – during his television address on Saturday.

The statement of President Uhuru Kenyatta left many wondering what exactly he meant by “ fix” the judiciary. However, the President let very few people in doubts whom his “fix it” statement was directed at. This calls for the urgency and necessity of the interpretation of the “ fix it” warning:

“Chief Justice] Maraga and his thugs have decided to cancel the election. Now I am no longer the president-elect. I am the serving president… Maraga should know that he is now dealing with the serving president.”

Interestingly, during his re-election campaign in Justice Maraga’s home area before the ill-fated presidential election, President Uhuru Kenya asked voters to vote for him because his government had appointed “their son” to the post of the Chief Justice. However, Chief Justice Maraga, who is well known for his independent mind, responded quickly and rebuked President Kenyatta, the man who appointed him to the post, insisting that he was not a government project. This show of independence and boldness is not typical in the African political terrain, where loyalty and sycophancy are necessary survival kits for the tempestuous African political waters. If the cancellation of the latest presidential polls in Kenya does not show how courageous and independent minded the Chief justice  – and his court – is, one wonders what else does.

With those unique qualities of the Chief Justice Maraga, the question is: How exactly will President Kenyatta “fix” the judiciary? Is he going to overhaul the whole Kenyan judicial system or the supreme court alone? Will Mr. President specifically target the supreme court (and other judges) he considers “crook”? If yes, how? Yet others wonder whether President Uhuru Kenyatta is trying to send an intimidating message to the judges on the supreme court to behave in view of the upcoming re-election polls?

Regardless, having in mind that the president does not have the legal power to sack the chief justice, whose single term expires when he turns 70, that makes President Kenyatta’s “ we must fix it” rhetoric more or less very interesting – and to an extent, worrisome indeed.

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