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.
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.
Political tensions and uncertainty mounted after Supreme Court 1 Sept annulled 8 Aug presidential election result on grounds that process was not conducted in accordance with constitution and ordered new vote to be held within two months; electoral commission (IEBC) set 26 Oct for new poll. Opposition NASA coalition 14 Sept threatened to boycott vote unless major changes made to IEBC leadership. Ruling Jubilee Party 28 Sept proposed changes to electoral laws including dropping electronic transmission as primary mode of relaying tallies from polling stations; NASA walked out of talks 28 Sept, said if laws passed it would launch nationwide protests and boycott election. Suspected Al-Shabaab gunmen 3 Sept killed two police officers guarding church in Ukunda town, south of Mombasa. In Lamu county, suspected Al-Shabaab militants 6 Sept beheaded four people. In north east, Al-Shabaab 19 Sept destroyed telecommunication mast in Mandera county and exchanged fire with soldiers before retreating. One police officer killed 11 Sept when police vehicle hit IED in Lamu county.
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.
The [Kenyan] political elites have really squandered the opportunity to consolidate the country's democracy. We may see clashes between protesters and police. It looks grim.
[Kenya is] in uncharted waters. Both the opposition and ruling party need to show greater responsibility to find a settlement that allows the country to move.
Climatic stresses are creating conditions for armed conflicts and terrorism to thrive in [the Horn of Africa] region.
[The decision of Kenya's Supreme Court to annul the presidential election result] is an incredibly important moment for democracy for Africa.
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.
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.
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.