Kenya: U.S. delegation visits amid election crisis

NAIROBI, Kenya-

A US Congressional delegation has met with Kenya’s newly elected president and the opposition figure likely to challenge in court his electoral defeat in the latest election crisis for East Africa’s most stable democracy.

Visiting US politicians met with President-elect William Ruto on Thursday, according to a tweet from Ruto.

The delegation also met with Raila Odinga and discussed developments in the elections and Kenya-US relations, according to Odinga’s spokesperson.

The delegation led by Senator Chris Coons also met with President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has maintained a public silence since largely peaceful elections on August 9. Kenyatta told the visiting US delegation that Kenya would maintain “its position as a shining example of democracy on the continent by maintaining peace during this period of transition”, according to a statement released by the president’s office.

Ruto is Kenyatta’s vice president, but the two had a falling out years ago, and Kenyatta in the election instead backed longtime opposition figure Raila Odinga.

Odinga said he was exploring “all constitutional and legal options” to challenge his electoral defeat. His campaign has a week from Monday’s declaration of Ruto’s victory to go to the Supreme Court, which then has 14 days to rule. Odinga urged his supporters to remain calm in a country with a history of post-election violence.

Kenya’s electoral commission publicly split in chaos minutes before Monday’s statement, with commissioners accusing each other of misconduct. The four commissioners who opposed Monday’s statement were appointed by Kenyatta last year.

The split came as a shock to many Kenyans after an election widely considered the country’s most transparent ever, with results from more than 46,000 polling stations posted online for the public to follow. Public tallies, including one by a group of local election observers, resulted in Ruto winning with just over 50% of the vote.

The political transition in Kenya will have a significant impact on the East African region, where Kenyatta had worked with the United States to try to mediate in the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia and promote peace efforts between Rwanda and Congo. Ruto, in his public comments this week, focused on national, not regional, issues.

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 Congolese tensions and human rights should be on the agenda of the day following Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Kigali last week.

Ruto, 55, has won over Kenyans by running the election on economic differences, not ethnic differences that have long marked the country’s politics with sometimes deadly results. He presented himself as an outsider of humble beginnings challenging the political dynasties of Kenyatta and Odinga, whose fathers were Kenya’s first president and vice president.

Odinga, 77, has served as president for a quarter of a century. He is known as a fighter and was detained for years in the 1980s for his efforts for multi-party democracy. He was also a supporter of Kenya’s revolutionary constitution of 2010.

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