Kenyan Poll Violence Eases After ‘Successful Opposition Boycott.’ But One Can’t Be So Sure

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NAIROBI (Bloomberg)–An uneasy calm prevailed in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, and the west of the country Saturday after two days of running battles between the security forces and supporters of the main opposition, which boycotted a court-ordered repeat of presidential elections.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga pulled out of the Oct. 26 rerun, after the electoral commission failed to heed his demands to replace staff who oversaw an Aug. 8 vote that the Supreme Court annulled because proper procedures weren’t followed. Voting was disrupted in several opposition strongholds as his supporters barricaded roads and hurled stones at police, who responded by firing teargas and live ammunition. At least eight people were killed, local newspapers reported.

“Today is calm, we have no big problems,” Leonard Katana, police commander for the western Nyanza region, where violence forced the delay of election in four districts, said by phone. “We are slowly going back to normal.”

The election turmoil has dimmed the growth outlook in Kenya, one of Africa’s top performers over the past decade, with consumers paring back spending and companies putting projects on hold. While preliminary tallies showed President Uhuru Kenyatta, 56, on track to win 98 percent of the vote, Odinga has rejected the results and called for fresh elections within 90 days. The outcome is almost certain to be challenged in court on the grounds that the vote wasn’t free and fair, according to Charles Kanjama, managing partner at Muma & Kanjama Advocates.

Low Turnout

Even if Kenyatta does hold onto office for a second term, he’ll face a challenge in asserting his authority and rebuilding battered investor confidence, given that less than half of registered voters cast ballots and no voting occurred at 3,635 of the 40,883 polling stations. There was a 79 percent turnout in the August election.

“The boycott was a success,” Dismas Mokua, an analyst at Nairobi-based risk advisory firm Trintari, said by phone. “National prosperity has been compromised. The voter turnout de-legitimizes the Uhuru Kenyatta win.”

Odinga’s four-party National Super Alliance will announce what it plans do next on Oct. 30, and has urged its supporters to show restraint. The opposition has previously said it wouldn’t challenge the election outcome in court and it would instead embark on a peaceful defiance campaign.

Seven international observer missions said Kenyan citizens had the right to decide whether they voted or not, and urged them not to break the law.

“It is imperative that the security forces provide protection to all citizens and avoid the excessive use of force,” they said in a statement on Friday. “We call for full accountability of the security agencies for all actions taken that result in injury and loss of life.”

Market Jitters

The Kenya Private Sector Alliance, a business lobby group, estimates that the prolonged unrest and uncertainty has already lopped the equivalent of $6.75 billion off the nation’s $71 billion gross domestic product. The Nairobi Securities Exchange All Share Index has dropped 5.5 percent since the election outcome was declared void on Sept. 1, while the yield on the government’s international bonds due in 2024 has climbed 35 basis points to 6.31 percent.

“Everything is on hold financially and economically in Kenya at the moment,”’ said Robert Besseling, executive director of political risk advisory firm EXX Africa. “Most investors are convinced that there will be a solution to this eventually but everyone right now is in a holding pattern.”