Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta became Kenya’s fourth President on Saturday afternoon, sweeping away a series of steep barriers to take the reins of power in the 50th year of the nation’s independence.
The official announcement of his victory at 2.42 pm on a mildly cold afternoon in Nairobi was greeted by rapturous celebration among his supporters.
Mr Kenyatta, 51, becomes the nation’s youngest leader and the first son of a President to take power in a competitive election in East and Central Africa.
The President-elect told hundreds of cheering supporters that he would govern for the whole nation and extended a hand of friendship to his main rival.
“I thank my honourable brother Raila Odinga for his spirited campaign. I know that all candidates have made tremendous personal sacrifices to secure the progress of this country. I want them to join us in moving the country forward.”
Mr Odinga rejected the results and vowed to go to court, describing the process as “tainted”. He said the electoral commission had presided over multiple failures that cast doubt on the validity of the results.
In the end, one of the most bruising elections in the nation’s history came down to a matter of only a few thousand votes.
Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Isaack Hassan, running several hours late, released the final tally of results to an expectant nation before a packed auditorium at the Bomas of Kenya.
Mr Kenyatta secured the support of 6,173,453 voters, attaining the constitutionally required simple majority of votes cast by the narrowest of margins.
The nation’s fourth President was pushed over the finish line by a mere 8,419 supporters, the number by which he beat the 50 per cent threshold.
Mr Kenyatta did not have to wait too long to get a taste of the trappings of power, which he will not be unfamiliar with as the son of the nation’s founding President, Jomo Kenyatta.
He was assigned elite armed guards on Saturday morning after it became clear he was winning and arrived at the official Jubilee tallying centre at the Catholic University in a convoy of luxury four wheel drive vehicles and stretch limousines.
“Today, we celebrate the triumph of democracy, the triumph of peace, the triumph of nationhood. Despite the misgivings of many in the world, we demonstrated a level of political maturity that surpassed expectations,” Mr Kenyatta said, in a brief speech delivered in a neutral, low key – almost presidential – baritone voice that marked a sharp contrast with the aggressive finger wagging aggression that was his signature during the campaigns.
Mr Kenyatta’s victory is the product of smart coalition building and one of the most sophisticated and flamboyant campaigns the nation has known.
Mr Kenyatta forged a partnership with former Eldoret North MP William Ruto, which offered him a path to victory by securing the support of the bulk of voters in the populous Rift Valley region.
Mr Ruto, like Mr Kenyatta, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court and their election puts the nation into uncharted waters.
The pair is the first to be democratically elected into office anywhere in the world while under the shadow of an indictment from the ICC.
This fact and the violent outcome of the last General Election meant that this was one of the most closely watched polls in Sub-Saharan Africa since the post-Apartheid 1994 elections in South Africa.
Mr Kenyatta’s victory was greeted with caution in major Western capitals.
Writing in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, editor Simon Tisdall argued that the British and American governments would find a way to work with the new government.
“Kenya’s assistance and leadership is seen as crucial in the battle against Indian Ocean piracy and in tackling regional problems including violence and mass displacement in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The UN, which created the ICC, relies on bases in Kenya to help run big trans-national operations across the continent.”
“There is really very little leverage that the US and other countries can exercise,” J. Peter Pham, director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center in Washington told the New York Times. Another former American official offered this assessment: “We need Kenya more than Kenya needs us,” he said.
Jendayi Frazer, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said: “This is going to pose a very awkward situation. Kenyatta knows he needs the United States, and the United States knows it needs Kenya.”
The March 4, 2013 General Election was historic at many levels.
It was an epic exercise involving thousands of candidates seeking to fill six positions created by the new constitution.
The new charter, which was adopted in August 2010, was designed to help prevent a recurrence of the violence that swept the nation in 2007/8.
The law created new structures including 47 county governments which will be the new principal centres of power outside the central government.
The election drew record participation from an energised electorate eager to take part in an exercise that shimmered with historical significance. Eight in 10 registered voters turned out, one of the highest counts recorded anywhere around the world and the highest in Kenyan history.
The peaceful nature of the election – despite the apprehension and scepticism of many analysts – was seen as a major triumph.
The multiple system failures by the IEBC, however, caused anxiety and drew robust protests from Mr Odinga’s coalition and several civil society organisations.
Many major observer groups gave their endorsement to the election but are yet to comment on the tallying process.
Shortly after the IEBC announced the result, messages of congratulation to the victorious team flowed in thick and fast.
President Kibaki commended Kenyans for conducting a peaceful election and wished Mr Kenyatta success.
President Moi and several presidential candidates including Ms Martha Karua, Mr Peter Kenneth, Mr Mohamed Abduba Dida and Mr Nzamba Kitonga, chairman of the Committee of Experts which drafted the new Constitution, also sent in their congratulations.
US Secretary of State John Kerry praised the electorate in a statement that did not make direct reference to the winners.
Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan and UK’s Minister for Africa Mark Simmonds also congratulated Kenyans:
Presidents Jakaya Kikwete, Jacob Zuma, Yoweri Museveni pledged to work closely with the new team.
Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto, 46, campaigned on a platform of change in an election in which they were seeking to replace the retiring 81 year-old president Mwai Kibaki and were running against his 68-year-old PM, Mr Odinga.
Their message that they could trigger a “digital transformation”, delivered amid much razzmatazz in a lavish, airborne campaign that saw them crisscross the nation and paint the nation red and yellow with expensive merchandise, resonated with enough voters to secure victory.
The hard work of delivering on their promises – including the provision of solar-powered laptops to pupils in primary school and free maternity services in public hospitals – now begins, although they will first have to convince the Supreme Court of the legitimacy of their victory.
–Additional reporting by Kenfrey Kiberenge