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Kenya Should Come Together After its Contested Elections
Kenya Should Come Together After its Contested Elections
Report 197 / Africa

Kenya’s 2013 Elections

Preparations for elections in Kenya turn into high gear today as the parties in the three major coalitions nominate their candidates.

Executive Summary

Kenya’s elections this year should turn the page on the bloodshed of five years ago, but the risk of political violence is still unacceptably high. A new constitution, fresh election commission and reformed judiciary should help. But the vote, now set for 4 March 2013, will still be a high-stakes competition for power, both nationally and in 47 new counties. Forthcoming trials before the International Criminal Court (ICC) of four Kenyans for their alleged role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence look set to shape the campaign. The potential for local violence is especially high. Politicians must stop ignoring rules, exploiting grievances and stoking divisions through ethnic campaigning. The country’s institutions face fierce pressure but must take bold action to curb them. Business and religious leaders and civil society should demand a free and fair vote. So too should regional and wider international partners, who must also make clear that those who jeopardise the stability of the country and region by using or inciting violence will be held to account. 

Many reforms were initiated to address the flawed 2007 polls and subsequent violence. A new constitution, passed in a peaceful referendum in August 2010, aims to fortify democracy and temper zero-sum competition for the presidency by checking executive power. New voting rules require the president to win more than half the votes and enjoy wider geographic support. Power is being devolved to 47 counties, each of which will elect a governor, senator and local assembly. Despite recent mishaps, the new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) still enjoys public trust. Judicial reform, including the appointment of a respected new chief justice, also augurs well for a more robust response to electoral fraud and disputes. 

The new institutions, however, have their work cut out. The ICC proceedings are influencing political alliances and the campaign. The four individuals facing trial deny the charges and maintain their innocence. While the cases aim to erode impunity long enjoyed by political elites and may deter bloodshed, they raise the stakes enormously. The two most powerful of the accused, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, look set to contest the elections on a single ticket (Kenyatta for president, Ruto for deputy president). Both have politicised the ICC cases, deepening ethnic polarisation, and have accused Prime Minister Raila Odinga, their strongest opponent, of conspiring with foreigners against them. 

The Kenyatta-Ruto alliance would be a strong ticket. Aware that Kenyans want an end to impunity, both have pledged to comply with the ICC, even if they win. Yet, regardless of the outcome of their cases, a president facing lengthy trial before the ICC could potentially have extremely damaging implications for reform and foreign relations, which Kenyatta’s backers should ponder carefully. For the moment, their eligibility to run for office remains in doubt; a case challenging their compliance with new constitutional requirements for public officials’ integrity is with a high court and may find its way by appeal to the Supreme Court. Were the courts to find Kenyatta and Ruto ineligible after the closing date for submitting nomination papers on 30 January, their supporters would be unable to choose alternative candidates, which might lead to strong protests and even spark conflict. Dealing as it does with a highly charged political issue, whichever way it goes, the final decision is likely to be contentious. If possible, the date of any decision should be announced in advance so the security agencies and others can prepare accordingly. 

Other signs are also troubling. Political parties and politicians flout new rules unchecked. The IEBC’s bungled procurement of voter registration kits reduced the confidence it previously enjoyed and suggests it may struggle to resist enormous pressure as the vote approaches. The late start to registration has cut all fat from the electoral timeline, and any flaws will heighten tension. The IEBC must work transparently with parties and other stakeholders to clarify and regularly review the timeline, so as to avoid any further – and highly-charged – delays.

Voter education will be crucial. It is the first general election under the 2010 constitution, with new rules that are considerably more complex than previous polls (each voter will cast six ballots). Limiting confusion and misunderstandings could help reduce disputes and election-related conflict. It is also vital that the IEBC provide sufficient access and information to citizen observers and other civil society groups. They must be able to plan their deployment properly and enjoy full access to every part of the election process, especially the tallying of results. Such groups can also be useful allies in bolstering commissioners’ ability to resist political interference.

Insecurity too poses a huge challenge. Despite the reforms, many structural conflict drivers – continuing reliance on ethnicity, competition for land and resources, resettlement of internally displaced people (IDPs), and poverty and youth unemployment – underlying the 2007-2008 violence remain unresolved and may be cynically used by politicians to whip up support. Many of those who fled the turmoil remain displaced. Land disputes feed local tension. Youth unemployment is still very high and, together with poverty and inequality, means a steady flow of recruits for criminal groups and militias that can be mobilised to intimidate opponents and their supporters or protest results, as they have in the past. Attacks blamed on the extremist Al-Shabaab movement and clashes over land can cloak political violence. Meanwhile, police reform has lagged and the security forces look ill-prepared to secure the polls. An experienced inspector general of police, David Kimaiyo, has been appointed, but the delay in his selection means little time remains for significant security reform. Multi-agency security planning, which has also lagged, must be completed and implemented. 

Ethnic campaigning and horse-trading as alliances formed – by Kenyatta and Ruto but also other leading politicians – have deepened divides. How the supporters of either of the two main tickets, those of Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta and former cabinet minister Ruto running and of Prime Minister Odinga and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka respectively, would respond to losing a close vote it perceives as flawed, or even to early signs it is falling behind, is unclear. International partners, including regional neighbours whose economies rely on a peaceful transition, should monitor any signs of interference or violence and weigh in quickly to deter it. Devolution, for all its benefits, introduces new conflict dynamics, as competition between groups for power and resources controlled at county level becomes fiercer. 

All these challenges are surmountable, especially given the remarkable determination of most to avoid a repeat of 2007-2008. But they require concerted action by Kenya’s institutions and their allies, and – most important – clear signals to leaders who are seen to be prioritising the pursuit of power. The people deserve better. To put the horror of five years ago behind them, they deserve the chance to vote without fear and elect leaders committed to reform and ready to serve society as a whole rather than the narrow interests of its elites.

Nairobi/Brussels, 17 January 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.