But there were still structural problems — among them, how to run elections. The 2010 Constitution laid the groundwork, and the elections law provided many of the details, but elections were still a work in progress in 2013, when Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga faced off. Mr. Odinga lost then, too. And then, too, he challenged the results, but the Supreme Court rejected his arguments.
That didn’t mean there were no legitimate problems with the vote, according to Mulle Musau, the national coordinator of the Elections Observation Group, a domestic elections watchdog. But few people wanted to push reform too hard.
“Kenyans were still very raw from what had happened in the postelection violence,” he said. “There was much more of a ‘let us accept and move on’ philosophy.”
In many people’s eyes, that philosophy continued while Mr. Kenyatta curtailed some of the promises made in the Constitution. He restricted the press, reined in civil-society groups and expanded the powers of the military and the police. Kenyan activists contend that Mr. Kenyatta’s first term began to erode the nation’s young but hearty democratic institutions.
That is one reason Kenyans were so surprised — and many of them delighted — when the Supreme Court nullified this summer’s presidential election. It was the strongest example of any institution demanding accountability and transparency — and during an election, no less.
“That’s part of what makes this a really defining moment,” said Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan lawyer and political analyst. “It’s bigger than just who wins the election. It’s a moment Kenyans are being asked to decide who we are and what we stand for. And people are using the law. Thirty years ago, nobody would’ve tried.”
Now, though, Bilman Emtabi, a 26-year-old “peace worker” from the Eastlands neighborhood of Nairobi, said he wasn’t too worried about the law, or heady ideas of enfranchisement. The election “is a sad story,” he said. “Kenyans today are divided in two — those who are hopeful of an election tomorrow, and those who are not.”
“For me, whether there’s an election tomorrow or not, I don’t care,” he said. “I just want peace.”