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Kenya Should Come Together After its Contested Elections
Kenya Should Come Together After its Contested Elections
Briefing 94 / Africa

Kenya After the Elections

Though the 2013 general elections were relatively peaceful, Kenya is still deeply divided and ethnically polarised.

I. Overview

Kenyan democracy was severely tested in the lead-up to, during and after the 4 March 2013 elections. On 9 March, following a tense but relatively peaceful election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Jubilee Coalition’s Uhuru Kenyatta president-elect. He garnered 50.07 per cent of the vote – barely passing the threshold for a first round victory. His closest opponent, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, challenged his victory in court, but despite allegations of irregularities and technical failures, the Supreme Court validated the election. Although Odinga accepted the ruling, his party and several civil society organisations questioned the election’s shortcomings and its impact on democracy. President Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, will have to restore confidence in the electoral process and show robust commitment to the implementation of the new constitution, in particular to devolution, land reform, the fight against corruption and national reconciliation. Failure to do so risks further polarising the country and alienating the international community.

Despite some clashes preceding the vote, and following the court’s decision, the nation avoided a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. A number of factors contributed to a predominantly peaceful election, including a general consensus between the political elite and the citizenry not to bring Kenya to the brink of civil war again. International pressure, in particular from the current International Criminal Court (ICC) cases, media self-censorship, restrictions on freedom of assembly, and deployment of security forces to potential hotspots also helped avert unrest. In addition, Kenya’s citizens took pre-emptive action by returning to ethnic homelands to vote, with vulnerable groups vacating areas of past communal violence.

However, a number of vital, more overarching reforms addressing systemic and structural conflict drivers – a culture of impunity, high unemployment, land reform, resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs), ethnic tensions, weak institutions and regional and socio-economic inequality – have yet to be implemented. Accountability for the 2007-2008 post-election violence remains largely unaddressed. It now rests with the ICC with charges against three (of the original six) suspects still pending, including prosecutions of the newly elected president and deputy president. Kenyatta and Ruto deny the allegations against them and have publicly committed to cooperate with the court. Yet in early May, Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN submitted a brief to the Security Council seeking to have the case terminated, a move that was subsequently rejected by Ruto and the attorney general but follows a history of government challenges to the court.

With the first election under the 2010 constitution complete, Kenyans now anticipate the full force of reforms that aim to redress grievances against centralised governance and uneven economic development. Through devolved government, the 47 newly created counties, with their own elected governors and assemblies, will seek to tackle socio-economic inequalities. However, faith in the central government’s will and capacity to implement reforms has been further weakened by the failures in the reformed electoral machinery. To restore public confidence in the electoral process, the government should:

  • conduct a comprehensive audit of the electoral process, drawing on all the relevant legislation, institutions and mechanisms;
     
  • address inadequate training of IEBC field officers, the police and other security sector personnel;
     
  • enhance communication of the processes in the electoral cycle and address deficiencies in civic and voter education; and
     
  • investigate and prosecute those suspected of committing electoral offences, including IEBC staff members, and work to rebuild confidence in the IEBC. 

County governments will have to work alongside central government to ensure effective management and equitable allocation of national and local resources. The success of devolution will depend on mutual cooperation between the National Assembly, the Senate, county governors and assemblies, and the Transitional Authority (TA) mandated to oversee the devolution process. In the following months the new government should:

  • clarify the distinct and interdependent functions of county and national governments pursuant to the constitution and relevant legislation;
     
  • encourage transparency with continuous updates on the status of the transition;
     
  • ensure county governments adhere to constitutional requirements for diversity and representation; and
     
  • build capacity at the county government level and ensure adequate and timely resource allocation.

As Kenya moves forward under a Jubilee government, focus will be on implementing the constitution, ensuring the smooth transition to devolved government and bringing justice to the victims of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. To ensure political stability, economic growth and mutually beneficial foreign relations, President Kenyatta’s government, with the support of regional and international partners, will need to:

  • cement peace and reconciliation initiatives and continue to seek justice for post-election violence victims through continued cooperation with the ICC; and
     
  • maintain progressive relationships with regional and international partners to ensure the achievements of the Grand Coalition Government, established in 2008, are preserved and built upon, and that Kenya’s ambitious socio-economic goals are achieved. 

Nairobi/Brussels, 15 May 2013

Polling station officials count the ballots at a polling station in Archers Post, Samburu County, in Kenya on 8 August 2017. AFP/Cyril Villemain
Statement / Africa

Kenya Should Come Together After its Contested Elections

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.

Despite claims of irregularity and the continuing risk of unrest, Kenya’s pivotal national and local elections on 8 August passed off in a largely peaceful manner. Millions of voters braved the elements and long queues, turning out to elect their representatives in an orderly fashion and, in so doing, demonstrating faith in their democratic system. This is an achievement that now must be protected and fortified.

The vote in one of Africa’s major democracies was fraught with danger, as Crisis Group has documented. A history of election-related violence, ethnic divisions and high stakes made for a potentially explosive combination. The world was watching closely, sending more than 5,000 foreign observers, drawn from all major regional and international organisations. In the end, all of these missions, including the African Union, the East African Community, the Carter Center, the European Union (EU), the National Democratic Institute and the Commonwealth expressed confidence in the electoral process and praised it as broadly credible. The expensive electronic system designed to curb cheating, which many feared would not hold up, appears to largely have functioned well.

There have been some violent incidents and the situation could still take a more dangerous turn. Raila Odinga, the opposition leader, claims the vote-counting system was hacked and manipulated; the opposition released its own vote tallies claiming Odinga had won by a wide margin. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has denied these charges. On 11 August, the commission released final tallies according to which incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta secured a second term with 8.4 million votes (54.27 percent) against Odinga’s 6.7 million (44.7 percent).

Following Odinga’s statements claiming vote rigging, protests erupted in parts of Nairobi and the western town of Kisumu, resulting in five deaths. There are fears tensions could rise now that authorities have announced the final official results.

Political leaders from both sides need to demonstrate restraint and responsibility.

Political leaders from both sides need to demonstrate restraint and responsibility. In particular, Odinga should take any challenge of the outcome to the courts –not the streets. He should urge his supporters to remain calm and firmly denounce any violence against security forces. For his part, Uhuru Kenyatta should be magnanimous in victory, reach out to opposition supporters and fulfill his pledge to run an inclusive government in his second term. Security forces should avoid escalating the situation and display conflict-sensitive policing aimed at defusing tensions.

The people of Kenya displayed remarkable patience and enthusiasm on voting day. This was a welcome endorsement of democracy at a time of discernible regression in other parts of the continent. 

Yet this election is but one step on Kenya’s path to greater stability and democracy. Odinga’s rejection of the results, and the backing he received from his supporters, illustrates how deeply sceptical many Kenyans remain toward their public institutions. The electoral commission will need to build confidence in its systems, while ensuring that logistical and technical preparations as well as proper civic education take place well ahead of the next polls.

[T]he next government must address key drivers of electoral violence, especially the ethnic divisions that continue to bedevil Kenya and its politics.

More broadly, the next government must address key drivers of electoral violence, especially the ethnic divisions that continue to bedevil Kenya and its politics. As the EU observer mission noted, too many politicians relied on identity politics to rally support. Fearing ethnic clashes, many Kenyans fled from urban areas before the election. Former U.S. President Barack Obama, in a statement issued on the eve of the vote, called on Kenyans to “reject a politics of tribe and ethnicity, and embrace the extraordinary potential of an inclusive democracy”. That is wise counsel. The country’s civil society, its vibrant independent media in particular, should seek ways to promote political activism without resorting to ethnic solidarity. 

More should be done to promote gender equality as well.  For the first time in Kenya’s history, three women were elected to lead governorates created under the 2010 constitution. Several women also were elected to parliament. That is a noteworthy advance. But the Kenyan constitution requires that at least a third of parliament members be women; the results fall far short of that. The previous parliament failed to pass laws to implement this rule. The new one should make it a priority.

Threats remain and the road ahead is certain to be bumpy. It remains unclear how Odinga’s supporters will react to his rejection of the results; sustained protests are possible if he refuses to concede. Still, this was an important election that could have gone very wrong. That it did not, at least for now, is cause for satisfaction. Now, the task before the Kenyan people is to work together, try to forge greater national unity and heal the divisions that the electoral process has once more laid bare.