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Kenyans turn to the courts after election

The new leader of Kenya must work towards restoring Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most stable democracies and achieving economic prosperity that has faltered of late.

The Kenyan election came to a nail-biting finish yesterday with Uhuru Kenyatta, the scion of the country's founding father, prevailing over his rival, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, in the first round by a slim majority of 50.07 per cent of the votes.

The battle, however, is far from over, with both major parties raising questions about voting irregularities. Mr Odinga's camp has already promised to challenge the results. But the real test will be whether conflicts will be worked out in the courts of the newly reformed judiciary, or on the streets as happened in 2007, when more than 1,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced in violence that split the country along ethnic lines.

The apprehension of further bloodshed has overshadowed events. Fifteen people were killed in the run-up to elections, which were still considered to be relatively peaceful.

Even if Mr Kenyatta fends off a challenge of the results, he still faces charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. He allegedly organised and funded the Mungiki gang, which was responsible for some of the worst violence in 2007 targeting Mr Odinga's supporters, primarily of the Luo and Kalenjin ethnic groups. Even though Mr Kenyatta has said he will cooperate with the ICC, Washington and London have already hinted that they will have difficult relations with a Kenyatta-led government.

Kenya can ill afford soured ties with its allies as it faces a renewed threat from Al Shabaab in response to Kenya's participation in the African Union force in Somalia. The image of Kenya as a model of African development before the 2007 violence has been severely shaken, with the current uncertainty already having a dampening effect on the economy.

The country has always been governed by parochial interests. Mr Kenyatta must form a government that includes all Kenyans, and not just his allies or members of his Kikuyu ethnic group.

The 2007 violence led to a unity government of rivals, including President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Odinga. It has not always been a happy union, but both sides recognised that Kenyans had to come together to heal the wounds of 2007. That same spirit of reconciliation is necessary now to restore Kenya's reputation as one of Africa's most stable democracies and return to the trajectory of economic prosperity that has faltered of late.

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