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.
President Kenyatta continued to assert control over ruling party, intercommunal violence erupted in north and Al-Shabaab attacks persisted in north east and east. Following April purge of senators aligned to deputy president and deputy party leader, William Ruto, Kenyatta continued to take steps to sideline Ruto within ruling Jubilee Party. Notably, in party meetings that Kenyatta chaired, 18 Ruto-aligned MPs removed from key positions in National Assembly 2 June, and National Assembly majority leader ousted 22 June. Kenya’s 2020-2021 budget presented by Finance Ministry 11 June also revealed cut of over 40% to Ruto’s budget allocation, and Jubilee Party 17 June signed cooperation agreements with Wiper Democratic Movement–Kenya and Chama Cha Mashinani parties to work together ahead of next general elections in further attempt to consolidate position against Ruto. In border area between Marsabit and Wajir counties in north, clashes between ethnic Borana and Degodia early to mid-June reportedly left at least 13 dead. In Mandera county in north east, Al-Shabaab raid 14 June left one police reservist and two militants dead in Warankara village. Security forces late June arrested two Al-Shabaab militants near border with Somalia. In Garissa county in east, Al-Shabaab night of 23-24 June set fire to several shops in Ijara town. Police brutality in context of COVID-19 continued: in capital Nairobi, police 1 June reportedly shot and killed homeless man for violating curfew, some 300 protesters that night took to streets to voice outrage; in western city of Lesos, police 25 June killed three in clashes with protesters denouncing arrest of taxi driver for flouting COVID-19 restrictions. UN General Assembly 18 June elected Kenya as non-permanent member of UN Security Council for two years (2021-2023).
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.
Northern Kenya is increasingly looking like an area that al-Shabab seeks to incorporate under its rule rather than just using it as a rear base.
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.
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.