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.
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.
President Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga held surprise talks 9 March – their first meeting since disputed 2017 elections – creating opportunity in April to begin dialogue and reduce tensions. They pledged to work together to unify country, including by creating joint office to tackle political divisions. During visit to Nairobi same day, then U.S. Sec State Rex Tillerson said govt should not threaten independence of media or courts. Immigration officials at Nairobi airport 26 March denied entry to prominent opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna whom govt 6 Feb deported for being “prohibited immigrant”. High court 27 March ordered authorities to allow Miguna to leave airport and enter country. After authorities failed to release Miguna, high court 28 March found interior minister and police inspector general in contempt of court, and next day fined them and immigration minister for ignoring ruling. Miguna 29 March said officials had put him on plane to Dubai late 28 March after beating and drugging him. Al-Shabaab attacks continued near border with Somalia; 2 March attack on police camps in Mandera county in north east left four police officers and reservists dead. Clan-related violence 27 March left six people dead in Banisa, Mandera county, following killing of two Garre clansmen in Ethiopia previous day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the past twelve months, Crisis Group has closely monitored and assessed developments in the run-up to Kenya's 8 August 2017 election. In this letter to our readers, Africa Program Director Comfort Ero highlights Crisis Group's flagship Kenya publications that have helped inform stakeholders of looming threats and ongoing electoral issues.
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.