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Forging Kenyan unity a challenge for Kenyatta

After president-elect's poll victory was confirmed by the court, he must now heal the country's deep ethnic divisions.
Last modified: 31 Mar 2013 22:51

The verdict is out. Uhuru Kenyatta will be Kenya’s fourth president.

As expected, the Saturday ruling was met with a mixed reaction from Kenyans. For Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his supporters, the decision was heartbreaking, while for Kenyatta and his backers, the verdict was a vindication.

For many Kenyans, already fatigued by the election period, it was time to move on - but moving on also means healing.

This has been a bitterly fought political battle, and one that has further split a country that has a history of ethnic divisions.

Raila Odinga garnered a little more than 5.34 million votes against Kenyatta's 6.17 million, out of a total of 12.3 million votes up for grabs.

Many of those who voted for the Prime Minister view the President-elect and his team with suspicion. They feel disenfranchised and say the court's ruling has denied them justice.

"A final decision does not mean that it's fair," one man told me.

Immediately after the ruling, Odinga's diehard supporters took to the streets in Kisumu, his hometown in western Kenya, and some parts of the capital Nairobi. The rest of his supporters across the country may not have taken such measures – but they too have more questions than answers.

Their questions will be answered in two weeks when the Supreme Court judges give a full ruling on how they reached their verdict. Whether the answers will be satisfactory remains to be seen.

In his televised speech after the verdict, Kenyatta extended an olive branch to Odinga and his supporters. He promised that his government will include everyone – even those who did not vote for him.

Raila Odinga, for his part, accepted the court's decision. He said that even if he did not agree with it fully, he would respect it.

Some of his most ardent supporters told Al Jazeera that they have no choice but to live with the verdict. Unlike their leader, however, they said that they don’t have to accept it.

These are the people that Kenyatta needs to reach out to.

Bernard Bwala, a religious leader said: "The President-elect needs to go to them and say, maybe you did not vote for me but I'm ready to be your president."

Unifying Kenya will be a tough task for Kenyatta, considering the country's history of ethnic division. The 2007 post-election violence, in which at least 1,000 people were killed, will always be a reminder of how violent those divisions can be.

Kenyatta won't solve Kenya's ethnic problems in one term, or even in two - but many of those who spoke to Al Jazeera said that he must strive to do so, to show those who did not vote for him that he is a president for all Kenyans.