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Political Unease Endures in Kenya Despite Fairly Peaceful Elections

March 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: And we turn to the East African nation of Kenya, a longtime U.S. ally, where a candidate accused of crimes against humanity is now preparing to lead the country.

Supporters cheered as Kenya’s president-elect, Uhuru Kenyatta, arrived at Nairobi’s election center over the weekend. A delayed final tally made it official. Kenyatta won a razor-thin victory over Prime Minister Raila Odinga, enough apparently to defuse the widespread fear of post-election violence.

PRESIDENT-ELECT UHURU KENYATTA, Kenya: We dutifully turned out. We voted in peace. We upheld order and respect for the rule of law. And we maintained the fabric of our society.

GWEN IFILL: Kenyatta is Kenya’s richest man and the son of the young nation’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta. But his election comes under a cloud. In 2011, he was indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges that he helped orchestrate a post-election bloodbath in 2007.

The violence between rival tribal groups left more than 1,000 people dead. Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto, face trial in July and Odinga has promised to challenge the election results.

RAILA ODINGA, Kenyan Prime Minister: These elections unearthed serious weaknesses within our election system, weaknesses which we thought we had dealt with in the past.

GWEN IFILL: Odinga’s lieutenant said today the election commission is now hindering efforts to file an appeal. But they still asked for calm.

MUTULA KILONZO, Kenyan Education Minister: We want to tell our country our petition is not intended to disrupt from the normal activities of a country. To the contrary, it is intended to create a precedent as to how elections ought to be done or ought not to be done.

GWEN IFILL: Kenya has been a key U.S. ally against terrorism in East Africa. Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson warned in advance of the voting that choices have consequences.

Western nations have been muted in their response to Kenyatta’s win. Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated the people of Kenya for voting peacefully, but he didn’t mention the victor by name.

In Washington today, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland played down that omission.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: I wouldn’t read too much into the statement, but clearly the post-electoral process continues, including through the courts, and that’s appropriate.

GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court dropped all charges today against one of Kenyatta’s co-defendants, Francis Muthaura, a top Kenyan civil servant. Court officials said the case against Kenyatta will move forward.