Good news from Kenya

Did you hear the big news from Kenya? Its Supreme Court annulled the president’s re-election. And he accepted it.

Africa’s post-colonial history has been mostly a sorry tale of “big men” ruling tyrannically, with massive corruption. Such bad governance has been the key factor keeping most Africans poor. But positive change has been happening in many places.

I wrote recently of The Gambia, whose president lost an election, and was persuaded to go by neighboring countries sending troops to push him. Now Kenya’s story is another unprecedented milestone.


Kenyan politics is rumbustious and very tribal. The 2007 elections instigated horrible violence. Corruption has been huge. The latest vote was a rematch between President Uhuru Kenyatta (son of Kenya’s first president) and Raila Odinga (son of its first VP). Days before the election, the guy in charge of its computer systems was murdered by torture. Kenyatta had been tipped to win, but his margin exceeded expectations. Odinga cried foul, charging a massive hack of the election system. But, despite some obvious irregularities, a team of international observers gave the election a passing grade.

Odinga. Take your pick

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court upheld Odinga’s challenge and voided the election. Kenyatta blasted the ruling, yet (probably confident of winning the re-vote) said he would accept it. This seems to be a first for Africa.

I hope (but doubt) our own president will be equally accepting when the time comes.

Kenya’s news is especially welcome when democracy is being battered in so many places (including America). Though I realize life is complicated, and good news often sours. I was enthusiastic about Egypt’s 2011 revolution, and even applauded President Morsi’s later ouster. That turned out badly; Egypt is now more repressive than ever. I wrote a blog post titled “Democracy Wins in Thailand;” that proved short-lived too, and Thailand today has a vicious military dictatorship.

But as I keep saying, history never runs in a straight line. And I’ve quoted Martin Luther King that the Universe’s moral arc is long but bends toward justice. That isn’t some inherent cosmic law. Rather, it’s that human beings have intelligence and rationality, whose usage expands as our material circumstances improve, freeing people from desperation, and empowering them with more education and knowledge. This is why, despite setbacks, our future is bright.

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