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 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presidential elections scheduled on 26 October risks escalating a political crisis, as the main opposition leader has withdrawn and the risk of violence is high.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.
President Kenyatta, reneging on pledge to remain open to dialogue with opposition on all issues, 12 Dec ruled out electoral reform and talks with opposition. Opposition leader Raila Odinga under international pressure dropped plan to be sworn in as president during independence day celebrations 12 Dec; govt reportedly said police would disrupt swearing-in ceremony and possibly arrest Odinga. Odinga 24 Dec said he would hold swearing-in ceremony in “early” 2018. Police 3 Dec arrested and detained overnight opposition strategist David Ndii. In Mombasa, leaders from former Coast province 17 Dec said they would swear in Odinga as “people’s president” and press ahead with plans to secede. Human Rights Watch reports released 14 Dec document widespread sexual violence around elections 8 Aug and 26 Oct, mostly by security forces; Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights 20 Dec published report documenting 92 deaths and 86 cases of sexual violence over election period. Suspected Al-Shabaab militants 30 Dec attacked two police camps in Garissa county near border with Somalia; no casualties reported.
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.
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.
[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] opposition has given greater currency [to political concessions] because of the elections dispute. I don’t think the opposition’s endgame is the Balkanisation of Kenya.
[Kenya's election] is about the idea of moving toward greater political competition and freedom, against those that say, ‘Let’s privilege economic development and forget political liberalism for now.’
Unfortunately Kenyan elections don’t tend to end with a clear winner or clear loser, they tend to end in draws. The one that captures or retains power has access to a vast resource of patronage.
The longer [the Kenyan political crisis] drags on the more bellicose the rhetoric gets among politicians and the more animosity there is among rising ethnic identities.
Unless the [Kenyan] courts annul the election, Kenyatta will move forward without a clear mandate and Odinga will pursue a protest strategy whose chances of success in the circumstances are not high.
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.
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.