Ten years after a disputed presidential poll brought Kenya to the brink of civil war, the August 2017 general election was won comfortably by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Although reforms introduced in the 2010 constitution have helped avert large-scale fighting, sporadic outbreaks of violence followed claims by opposition leader Raila Odinga that results had been manipulated. Ethnic divisions continue to be a key driver of electoral violence in Kenya and must be addressed by the government through reforms aimed at a more inclusive democracy. By engaging relevant actors and carrying out field-based research, we work at the national and local levels to build sustainable peace and to help advance reforms that can consolidate democratic gains.
Contrary to the deadly election of 2007, Kenya’s pivotal and highly-anticipated 2017 national and local polls passed without major outbreaks of violence. But in order to build on this achievement, Kenyans must take further steps to overcome ethnic divisions and work toward greater national unity and inclusive governance.
In run-up to 8 Aug elections, Al-Shabaab intensified attacks in Lamu county on coast and political tensions rose amid election-related violence. Some 200 Al-Shabaab militants attacked Pandanguo police station 5 July killing at least three officers; suspected militants beheaded nine civilians in Jima area 8 July; militants ambushed govt convoy in Milihoi on Lamu-Mpeketoni road 13 July killing at least four security officers and one civilian and briefly abducting senior official. Govt 8 July imposed three-month curfew in Lamu, Garissa and Tana River counties. Security forces 10 July said they had launched airstrikes on Al-Shabaab stronghold Boni forest in Lamu county. Some 30 Al-Shabaab militants 18 July made abortive attempt to attack police station in Mokowe, Lamu county; no casualties reported. Court of Appeal 20 July overturned 7 July decision by High Court to cancel award of tender to print ballot papers to Dubai-based firm which opposition said had links to ruling Jubilee party. Police shot dead gunman 30 July eighteen hours after he broke into Deputy President Ruto’s home compound near Eldoret in west, killing one guard and wounding another. Electoral commission’s head of IT, missing since 28 July, found dead 31 July, commission said he had been tortured and murdered.
While the chance is small that August 2017 elections ignite a major conflict, county governorship races could well trigger inter-ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley, Kenya’s populous economic heart. The government should train police in non-violent methods that de-escalate crises, and restart grassroots peacebuilding initiatives.
Six new coastal counties created by Kenya’s 2010 constitution have replicated the closely-held patronage politics of the former Coast province, adding to inefficiencies, costs and mutual suspicions. To maximise the potential of devolution – and prevent militants like Al-Shabaab exploiting popular disappointment – Nairobi and the new counties need to become more cooperative, open to dialogue, and inclusive, especially toward marginalised youth.
Clan politics, poor services, growing corruption and disarray in the security forces are undermining Kenya’s newly formed north-eastern counties, allowing the violently extremist Al-Shabaab movement to infiltrate over the border from Somalia. To build security and capitalise on devolution’s potential, national government and county elites alike must become more pragmatic and inclusive.
One year after the Westgate attack, Al-Shabaab has become more entrenched and active in Kenya. Meanwhile, the country’s immediate post-Westgate unity has broken down in the face of increasing attacks, and the political elites, security services, and ethnic and faith communities are beset by mutual suspicion and recriminations.
Though the 2013 general elections were relatively peaceful, Kenya is still deeply divided and ethnically polarised.
Preparations for elections in Kenya turn into high gear today as the parties in the three major coalitions nominate their candidates.
Many politicians don't do their jobs properly so there's continual frustration [in Kenya]. But now at least people know they can have some say in how their resources are managed.
It can be argued that fake news in the lead-up to the [Kenyan] elections was just aimed at boosting political support. Now, when it’s a question of life or death, it’s much more dangerous.
After independence, the politicians found this system of ethnic politics convenient. In Kenya, unfortunately, they continued to use ethnicity as the main tool on which to run elections.
[Kenyan] politics now remain really in the grip of a few ethnic, oligarchic families that essentially practice ‘machine’ politics.
[D]evolution [in Kenya] is both a blessing and a curse. [I]t has been very successful in creating local accountability ... but it has also devolved quite a few problems.
[The murder of Senior Kenyan election official Chris Msando] will definitely raise suspicions and undermine public confidence in the outcome [of the presidential elections].
Kenya’s 8 August elections are rapidly approaching and concerns continue to mount over the prospect of electoral violence. In this Q&A, Senior Kenya Analyst Murithi Mutiga looks at what is at stake and assesses efforts to prevent another violent fallout from the balloting.
Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst Murithi Mutiga has just returned from a weeklong tour of the troubled central Kenyan county of Laikipia, where violence between indigenous nomadic pastoralists and ranchers is escalating in the run-up to elections scheduled for 8 August.
Kenya’s 2010 constitution was intended to end fierce electoral battles, but in the northern counties of Isiolo and Marsabit it has exacerbated ethnic and border tensions. To prevent these issues causing electoral violence in August, stakeholders should deploy more personnel and work toward intercommunal reconciliation.
The stakes are high in contests for local power in Kenya’s August 2017 elections. There is still time for the government and international donors to help avert a replay of past electoral violence, notably by renewing support for local peace committees.