By Matina Stevis
NAIROBI, Kenya -- Newly elected for a second term, President Uhuru Kenyatta faces an uphill struggle to keep Kenya's economy ticking, cut debt and unite a nation divided along tribal lines after a fierce election.
Mr. Kenyatta received 54.3% of the vote in Tuesday's election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission said Friday, handing him another four years at the helm of East Africa's biggest economy.
Longtime rival and opposition leader Raila Odinga garnered 44.7%, but his coalition continued to dispute the results, claiming mass fraud. Election observers from the U.S., the European Union and the African Union have said the voting process was free and fair.
In his acceptance speech, Mr. Kenyatta sought to strike a conciliatory note. "To our brothers, who were worthy competitors, we are not enemies, we are all citizens of one republic," he said.
But the opposition didn't appear ready to drop claims that the electoral software had been hacked and votes rigged in favor of Mr. Kenyatta. Just before the results were announced, a senior member of the opposition coalition, NASA, called the election "a charade, a disaster."
The standoff, which led to isolated clashes following a largely peaceful election, means investors will closely watch how Mr. Kenyatta tries to seal divisions widened by the fractious campaign.
In recent days, the Kenyan shilling remained stable and the country's dollar-denominated Eurobond rallied, as investors expected Mr. Kenyatta to continue spending on infrastructure and promoting regional integration.
"Kenyatta's party will have a majority in both the National Assembly and Senate, which will likely result in the government pushing its agenda through parliament faster," said Ahmed Salim, a senior analyst with research firm Teneo Intelligence.
Kenya's economy has clocked average growth of 5.3% over the past five years, compared with 3.6% for sub-Saharan Africa, solidifying its position as a leading investment hub on the continent. Chinese state companies and Western firms have poured billions of dollars into its technology, infrastructure and services sectors. China Communications Construction Company just completed a $3.2 billion railway connecting Nairobi and the port of Mombasa, financed by a loan from a Chinese development bank.
These splurges have pushed government debt up to 55% of gross domestic product, triggering a call from the International Monetary Fund to curb new spending and focus on debt repayments: a task that doesn't jibe with expectations for further infrastructure and public services improvements promised by Mr. Kenyatta during his campaign.
"Avoiding further borrowing and implanting fiscal consolidation will be a challenge," Mr. Salim said.
The high-octane campaign and the claims of electoral fraud will also leave Mr. Kenyatta with opposition voters who will feel left out yet again.
Kenyan politics continue to be split along largely tribal lines, giving Mr. Kenyatta's Kikuyu tribe and its allies an electoral advantage. Mr. Odinga says his Luo tribe, and others aligned with it, have been neglected.
James Orengo, a senior member of the opposition, said Mr. Odinga's coalition wouldn't challenge the results in court, stoking concerns that violence would break out in opposition strongholds.
"We have been there before," he said, referring to the 2013 election, when Mr. Odinga lost to Mr. Kenyatta and unsuccessfully challenged the outcome in court.
A disputed election in 2007, which Mr. Odinga also lost, triggered widespread tribal violence that left 1,100 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes.
Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, were charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court following the 2007 violence, but charges were later withdrawn. Both denied the charges.
Since Wednesday at least three people were killed during street fighting between security forces and groups of young men in Kisumu, a western Kenyan city that's an Odinga stronghold, and in some Nairobi slums. Contributing to the tensions was the murder of a senior member of the election commission just days before the vote.
Shortly after results were announced late Friday, supporters of Mr. Kenyatta took to the streets in wild celebration, but violence broke out in limited areas of the capital where disaffected supporters of Mr. Odinga clashed with police.
Tuesday's election was the fourth and likely final run at the presidency for the 72-year-old Mr. Odinga.
Addressing the claims of neglect will be a key challenge for Mr. Kenyatta. Western and coastal Kenya, which are largely in Mr. Odinga's camp, contain some of the country's poorest areas. Many residents complain of bad health care, education and physical infrastructure, saying the central government doesn't support them because of their tribe.
Mr. Kenyatta will have to build bridges with those voters and opposition leaders if he is to make good on his electoral slogan, "Tuko Pamoja," which means "we are together" in Kiswahili.
"It is important that Kenyatta signals his willingness to end the politics of exclusion that characterized his first term," said Ken Opalo, an assistant professor of political economy at Georgetown University in Washington.
Write to Matina Stevis at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 11, 2017 18:00 ET (22:00 GMT)
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