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Crisis Group On the Long Road to Kenya's August Elections
Crisis Group On the Long Road to Kenya's August 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

Commentary / Africa

Crisis Group On the Long Road to Kenya's August Elections

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.

Dear friends of Crisis Group, 

On 8 August 2017, Kenyans will vote in eagerly anticipated local and presidential elections. The country’s strategic role as East Africa’s transport and commercial hub, the fact that it is one of the continent’s major democracies, and a history of election-related violence explain why these polls are so important and why they will be closely watched. As in past electoral cycles, the 2017 election is hard to call, the campaign has been vigorously fought and there is concern that voting could be marred by violence.

Since the start of the year, Crisis Group has been following the political campaigns and monitoring preparations for next Tuesday’s poll. Our publications provide an overview of key issues surrounding the vote. We have prepared a full reading list, and outline some of our key publications below.

Today, Murithi Mutiga answers crucial questions about Kenya’s readiness for the ballot, what is at stake for each of the major players and the likelihood of a repeat of the weeks of bloodletting that followed the 2007 election.

In May, Crisis Group issued a report on the volatile Rift Valley region, which witnessed some of the worst violence in 2007. We made the point that the task of reconciliation is not yet complete and that authorities and donors should continue investing in grassroots-based reconciliation efforts rather than relying on a transactional electoral pact between leaders of the main ethnic groups (the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin) to maintain peace in the region.

Our March commentary highlighted that the electoral commission’s preparations were well behind schedule and that time was running out for it to be in a position to deliver a credible election.

Crisis Group field research highlights key counties where the threat of ethnic conflict is highest.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution introduced a new system of devolved government to spread power and resources to localities and dilute the president’s powers in order to change the election’s winner-take-all nature that – by raising stakes to existential levels – helped fan past conflicts. But there is a flip side. For devolution reduced the stakes of the presidential election, it simultaneously raised those for the now-powerful position of governors who head the 47 newly created counties. These have been fraught and marked by violence. Crisis Group field research highlights key counties where the threat of ethnic conflict is highest. In July, Abdullahi Abdille examined the northern Kenya counties of Marsabit and Isiolo which have witnessed serious violence in the past decade. Murithi Mutiga travelled to the counties of Laikipia and Narok where political incitement, land hunger and historical grievances drive cycles of violence.

Throughout its reporting, Crisis Group consistently has called on:

  • Kenya’s key external partners to lean on the main presidential candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, to sign a public peace pledge committing them to renounce violence, adhere to the electoral code of conduct, accept the will of the people as expressed in a fair and credible poll and exclusively challenge results through the court system;
  • Observer missions to send teams to Kenyatta’s and Odinga’s strongholds, to act as a safeguard against ballot-box stuffing and vote tampering;
  • Donors to support the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a peacebuilding institution, to improve its capacity to gather evidence for prosecution of actors engaging in hate speech in order to deter politicians from acting irresponsibly in future elections;
  • Donors to encourage improvements of the electoral commission’s communication in order to better inform voters at every stage of the electoral process and avoid tensions that accompanied the tallying process in the past;
  • Kenyan authorities to show restraint in policing potential street protests in the wake of the vote in order to prevent a repeat of the 2007/2008 violence where many died at the hands of the police.

At a time when democratic governance is receding in parts of Africa, Kenya’s elections are of enormous importance. A smooth process will consolidate democratic gains in the country and serve as a symbol for the rest of the continent; a contested outcome and violence will represent a significant setback for both.
Dr. Comfort Ero
Director, Africa Program
International Crisis Group

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