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.
Four years after attacking a university, Al-Shabaab has sustained its campaign, forcing many teachers, nurses and officials to flee north-eastern Kenya, one of the country’s most neglected regions. Authorities must do more to tackle insecurity, reopen schools and counter the risk of increased militant recruitment.
Kenya-Somalia tensions flared early March before leaders took steps to de-escalate, Kenyan security forces continued to battle Al-Shabaab in north and east, and pushback against heavy enforcement of COVID-19 related measures turned deadly. After Mogadishu early Feb accused Kenya of harbouring former security minister of Somalia’s Jubaland state Abdirashid Janan, tensions escalated further 2 March when clashes erupted between Somali federal forces and Janan’s troops in Jubaland’s Bula Hawa town, Gedo region, and spilled over into neighbouring Mandera town in Kenya, reportedly killing at least one civilian. Local Kenyan police arrested a dozen Somali soldiers who had crossed border. President Kenyatta 4 March accused Somalia of violating country’s sovereignty. In 5 March call initiated by Somali President Farmajo, two presidents discussed measures to ease tensions including creation of joint committees to strengthen bilateral relations. Kenyan delegation 8 March visited Mogadishu, same day Farmajo accepted Kenyatta’s invitation to Kenya-Somalia-Ethiopia summit in capital Nairobi aimed at defusing tensions; amid fears of COVID-19 outbreak, govt 13 March however postponed summit. In Garissa county in east, security forces 6 and 13 March killed at least eight Al-Shabaab militants. In turn, militants 13-14 March killed police officer between Alinjugur and Hagadera refugee camps; police vehicle also detonated roadside bomb leaving two officers dead in Welmarer area. Suspected Al-Shabaab roadside bombing 15 March left three civilians dead at Qorahindi. In Lamu county in east, armed forces 19 March raided Al-Shabaab camp in Boni forest leaving a dozen militants dead. In Mandera county in north east, Al-Shabaab 11 March ambushed several vehicles on Rhamu-Elwak road leaving at least four civilians and unknown number of soldiers dead. In Marsabit county near Ethiopian border in north, gunmen whom locals said were Ethiopian soldiers 12 March crossed into Kenya and killed five civilians in Sessi. Security forces’ heavy-handed enforcement of COVID-19 related curfew left at least three dead and dozens injured in several cities late March. Govt 31 March closed border with Ethiopia to stop spread of virus.
Al-Shabaab remains focused on recapturing power in Somalia, but it continues to plot attacks in Kenya and Tanzania – and perhaps in Uganda as well. To counter the movement, East African states should eschew heavy-handed crackdowns and work instead to reduce its appeal to potential recruits.
The meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga was an important step toward ending the protracted crisis over last year’s disputed election. To build on the progress, consensus is required on concrete steps that can help safeguard against future polarisation and violence.
The rerun of Kenya’s presidential elections scheduled on 26 October risks escalating a political crisis, as the main opposition leader has withdrawn and the risk of violence is high. The election commission should seek from the Supreme Court a 30-45 day delay to the vote. Kenya’s political leaders should support such an extension and commit to participate.
Following the annulment of August’s historic vote, Kenya must hold repeat presidential elections by 1 November. But rising tensions and the threat of an opposition boycott could result in missing the vote's deadline and risk a constitutional crisis. Both political camps must move away from harsh words and find mutually acceptable electoral reforms to allow elections to proceed.
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.
When [Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga] has a seat at the table, you expect that there will be less inclination to behave irresponsibly and to close down the democratic space.
The U.S. is no longer the dominant external actor in Africa, and must compete for influence not only with China, but a host of other, increasingly assertive, states pursuing their own agendas.
It is vital that [Kenya’s President Kenyatta and opposition leader Odinga] invest heavily in ensuring that a more lasting settlement emerges from their talks.
While we were hoping that [Kenya], after a bruising election season, could pull together, that seems a lost hope.
[Kenya's President] Kenyatta, by resisting all attempts at dialogue, has put himself in a position where he will continue to struggle to be seen as the president of all Kenyans.
[Kenya's] crisis has highlighted the gulf between the elite and the ordinary people. It is a sentiment I recognise every day. The government and opposition are disconnected from the people’s reality.
Delayed elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the stalled transition risks provoking a major crisis, are one of three critical African polls: the DRC crisis, the recent vote in Kenya and Zimbabwe’s election next year all have important implications for democracy and stability on the continent.
Kenya’s Supreme Court decision to annul the 8 August presidential election is bold and historic, but the path ahead will be fraught. A successful rerun within 60 days will need compromise on a better electoral commission, more accountable policing and more effective management of the high-stakes vote.