Before Kenya’s August 8 general election, opposition candidate Raila Odinga promised to be a transitional, one-term president. Uhuru Kenyatta, meanwhile, was gunning for a second and final term. Both candidates’ political legacies were at stake.
But the nullification of the presidential election has thrown Kenya into uncharted territory. It’s been made even more unpredictable by Odinga’s withdrawal from the repeat election slated for October 26.
Odinga withdrew because, he claimed, the election commission refused to meet nine demands he made as preconditions for a credible fresh election after the August 8 poll was invalidated by the Supreme Court.
The political uncertainty is having a negative impact on the country’s economy, as well as its political stability.
The hard-line positions adopted by both sides have created a deep rift between the supporters of Kenyatta’s Jubilee party and Odinga’s National Super Alliance. To make matters worse, the police have repeatedly used excessive force to contain National Super Alliance protesters who have clashed with Jubilee supporters during demonstrations.
These protests could very easily escalate into tribal violence given the ethnically divisive nature of Kenyan politics.
Election commission to blame
Kenya’s current political crisis can be attributed to the ineptness of the electoral commission. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission mishandled the August 8 election. After the Supreme Court invalidated the poll, infighting among commissioners dented the commission’s image even further. The court found the commission committed grave irregularities and illegalities during the August election.
The commission has also aligned itself with the Jubilee Party. For its part, the party has often shielded the electoral body from criticism. For example it blamed the Supreme Court for invalidating the election. All this entrenches the notion that the commission is not exercising an independent mandate.
The commission has focused too much on short term political stability. It hasn’t considered the impact of another bungled election on Kenya’s long term democratic gains. It was given 60 days by the Supreme Court and the country’s Constitution to hold a second poll, and rushed into this process without any introspection.
And divisions between the commissioners are widening. One of them, Roselyn Akombe, has resigned and says the commission’s partisan nature makes it impossible for the body to hold a credible poll. Wafula Chebukati, the commission’s chairman, responded to Akombe’s resignation by saying he can’t guarantee that his team can hold a credible election.
All this suggests that the commission could make the same mistakes it did leading up to August 8 and that the second poll will also be a sham. This would drag Kenya further into political turmoil and lead to more economic strain on the country.
Unlike its opposition, the ruling Jubilee party is keen to participate in the October 26 election. It even used its majority in both houses of Parliament to push through amendments to the election laws.
These amendments dilute the electoral commission chairman’s power and also give priority to manual voting over electronic processes. Confusion over manual processes played a large role in pushing Kenya into post-election violence during the contested 2007 polls.
Jubilee has not consulted widely on these amendments, and has been widely condemned for pushing through changes to election law so close to the second poll. The changes all appear to be knee-jerk reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling, and a push to ensure Kenyatta bags a second term.
Meanwhile, Odinga and his party have maintained that elections will not be conducted on October 26. To add fuel to the political fire, the coalition he leads has escalated its weekly demonstrations to daily countrywide protests.
The next stage of this battle is likely to play out in the Supreme Court. The National Super Alliance still has the option to return to court to either stop the October 26 poll or challenge its outcome.
But the solution to Kenya’s ongoing constitutional crisis is not legal. It is political. The country is deeply divided along ethnic and political lines. If the electoral commission goes ahead with an election that doesn’t include Odinga, the process is likely to be deemed illegitimate.
It’s obvious that the electoral commission has been captured by partisan politics. It is operating in a hostile political environment and there is enormous division in its ranks.
In the worst case scenario, Kenya could degenerate into the kind of ethnicised election violence last seen in 2007. The feeling of disenfranchisement among some ethnic communities, who have felt marginalised by successive regimes since independence, has once again emerged in public discourse.
Assessing statements made by the electoral commission in recent days it’s clear that it’s unable to hold a credible election. On the other hand another legal battle would only drag the country into further political uncertainty.
What’s clear therefore is that a political settlement is needed to reconstitute the electoral body before holding a fresh election. This might involve forming a caretaker government to give the electoral commission time to effect the necessary reforms.
A few hours after Kenya’s polling stations closed on Tuesday August 8th, the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission began transmitting live results.
But even before it had a chance to complete the tallying process, the opposition candidate Raila Odinga and his National Super Alliance (NASA) disputed the credibility and fairness of the process, claiming that they had garnered 8.04 million votes against Uhuru Kenyatta’s 7.7 million.
These results differed widely from the official electoral figures which on Friday placed Kenyatta in the lead with 8.1 million votes, and Odinga in second place with 6.7 million.
History seems to be on the side of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission: international observers – of which there were 400 at various stations on polling day – have by and large come out to say that the process was credible. If we take the practice of democracy as playing the game and abiding by the rules, then for Kenya the game is far from over.
In the end, the final judgement could be made by the country’s courts. The rules governing elections in Kenya are set down in the constitution which states that a candidate will be declared president if he or she has received more than half of all the votes cast in the election, and that at least 25% of the votes cast in each of more than half of the counties.
If indeed there is an election petition, both sides are heavily invested in the outcome. For Odinga it is do or die. He has unsuccessfully contested for the top seat three times. However, despite this being his last shot, he has maintained that legal recourse is not an option.
The future of his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka is also uncertain – results show that some of the candidates vying for gubernatorial seats on his Wiper party ticket were unsuccessful, thereby lowering his political party’s future value proposition.
For Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto the marriage of convenience is under pressure to continue for another five years to pave the way for Ruto’s succession.
Things that stood out
Despite the fears of post-election violence there was a lot of goodwill for this election to be a success. Campaigns for a “tribeless Kenya” and various activities that promoted peaceful elections were a part of the pre-poll fabric.
While there were multiple reports predicting violence, there was relative calm after voters had gone to the polls. And for the most part Kenyans have so far affirmed that no blood needs to be shed.
But there has been violence. Kenyans in low-income areas been caught up in deadly clashes with the police.
These incidents have been localised to opposition areas and the majority of Kenyans seem eager to return to normalcy. This resolve is being tested by the opposition alliance which announced on Sunday that it was preparing a post-election strategy. Many fear that this could heighten tensions further. The election, and its aftermath, provide an opportunity for Kenya to reflect on how the electoral process went and how, in the future, it can deal with complaints and inconsistencies better.
But there have been many positive reports on the election process. These, combined with what observers say was largely a free and fair election, have increased international confidence in Kenya’s election processes.
What was memorable
What will the 2017 election be remembered for?
The road to Canaan: The 2017 election was an incumbent election with polls consistently showing an incumbent win for Kenyatta. Nevertheless, the opposition colourfully portrayed their campaign as the Road to Canaan, with Joshua (their flag bearer Odinga) leading them to the Promised Land full of milk and honey. The biblical story of Joshua is of a military commander who takes the mantle from Moses. His mission is to take the Israelite tribes to the land of Canaan after 40 years of wandering. The story of Canaan is one of hope and the message resonated with many Kenyans.
The year of the independent candidate: Legislation that put a definitive end to party hopping after the party nomination process gave rise to the “big two” National Super Alliance and Jubilee Party coalitions.
In my opinion this legislation changed Kenya’s political landscape because smaller parties were swallowed up by the big coalitions. Many who tried to secure nominations from the Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance failed. They were therefore left no option but to stand as independent candidates if they wanted to keep alive their dreams of running for office.
But the election results have shown that the independent movement failed to get off the ground. By and large Kenyans favoured candidates from one of the big two coalitions. Only two counties – Isiolo and Laikipia – went against this trend, electing independent candidates as their next governors.
More women elected: In terms of gender representation, there’s a lot to be encouraged by, not least the fact that the first women governors were elected. The council of governors had previously been a male preserve. The number of women in elected seats also rose from 16 in 2013 to 22 in this election.
Leaders who work: The election results also showed the reduction in appetite for leaders who don’t deliver. This was clear from the number of incumbents who were unsuccessful in their bids to return to their posts.
In the end, election days come and go. The next phase is all that matters now. The intense electoral competition and the choices people made show that there is enough room for all Kenyans to participate – whether they belong to a big party or not – and to do so in a meaningful way.
Kenyans began voting Tuesday in general elections headlined by a too-close-to-call battle between incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and his rival Raila Odinga, sparking fears of violence in east Africa's richest economy.
Long lines of voters snaked outside of polling stations around the country, many of them camping out from before midnight, under heavy security. Voting got underway shortly after 6am and all eyes are on an electronic voter identification and tallying system whose success is seen as crucial to a smooth.
In Nairobi's largest slum Kibera, an opposition stronghold, angry shouts rang out due to a 15 minute delay, but calm swiftly returned as polling stations opened. "I voted Raila, because he will be so much better to us. But if he does not win, it's ok. It's a democracy after all. Really, there's no need for violence," said Tom Mboya, 43, who works in construction.
Tensions soared in the last days of the campaign with the murder of a top election official and opposition claims that one of its vote tallying centres was raided by police, heightening a feverish atmosphere of conspiracy and suspicion.
The polls are seen as a litmus test of Kenya's progress since a disputed 2007 election sparked violence which left more than 1,100 dead and 600,000 displaced. Odinga, 72, flagbearer of the NASA coalition, is taking his fourth and likely final stab at the presidency.
He claims elections in 2007 and 2013 were stolen from him and right up until the eve of the vote, insisted that Kenyatta's Jubilee Party planned to rig Tuesday's presidential election. Elections in 2013 were marred by the widespread failure of the electronic system, forcing officials to revert to manual counting of the vote. However Odinga took his grievances to the courts instead of the streets, where he lost.
"It seems almost inevitable that whoever loses will question the result. The question is not whether or not they will accept the result but what they will do when they don't accept it," said Nic Cheeseman, professor of African politics at Birmingham University in England.
In a bid to ease tensions Kenyatta addressed the nation Monday night, urging citizens to vote "in peace". Former US president Barack Obama, whose father was born in Kenya, led a chorus of international calls on the eve of the vote for a peaceful election.
"I urge Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement; respect the will of the people," Obama said in a statement. At Moi Avenue Primary School, the largest polling station in the city, voter Calvin Otieno, 27, joined the queue shortly after midnight. "Everyone has a right to vote and we should all be ready to accept the results. There is no need to fight because of elections. We are all Kenyans irrespective of tribe. If we fight, will any of the candidates come to bring us food in our houses?" he said.
In Kenyatta's home town Gatundu, north of Nairobi, a voter who identified herself only as Gathoni arrived early to "vote for my favourite president", who will himself cast his ballot at the polling station later in the morning.
There are more than 19 million registered voters in the nation of 48 million. Half are aged under 35. More than 150,000 security forces — including wildlife, prison and forestry officers — have been deployed for the vote, which ends at 5pm (1400 GMT).
Kenyans will vote in six different elections, choosing governors, lawmakers, senators, county officials and women's representatives in local races also rife with tension. However all eyes are on what is set to be the last showdown of a dynastic rivalry that has lasted more than half a century since the presidential candidates' fathers Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga went from allies in the struggle for independence to bitter rivals.
The men belong to two of the country's main ethnic groups, Kenyatta from the Kikuyu, the largest, and Odinga from the Luo. Both have secured formidable alliances with other influential communities in a country where voting takes place largely along tribal lines.
Kenyatta, 55, is seeking re-election after a first term in which he oversaw a massive infrastructure drive and steady economic growth of more than five percent. However he is also criticised for soaring food prices — with prices jumping 20 percent year-on-year in May — and massive corruption scandals on his watch.
Credit: NATION MEDIA GROUP
The democratic ideal visualises a government in which supreme power is vested in the people. They exercise this power indirectly through a system of representation that allows them to elect the leaders of their choice.
In practice, the reality is far more complex. The influence of big business in financing parties and candidates means that some of the biggest owners of capital are inextricably linked to high-level politics.
For example, the funding of US presidential campaigns by big business interests is often hidden in contributions to independent political action committees, or super PACS. The committees can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.
As an old maxim goes:
He who controls the country’s wealth controls its politics.
When wealthy business people invest in elections they expect their interests to be protected. This has been the expectation in Kenyan politics since the birth of the nation. Over the years, the influence of big business has grown and led to deeper entrenchment of the minority elite.
Big business interests in Kenya range from banking, to manufacturing, construction, retail and wholesale concerns, farming, insurance, and media among many others. Quite a number of large corporations and wealthy business people rely heavily on political patronage to maintain a steady growth trajectory.
Kenya is also experiencing the rise of the “tenderpreneur” - a person who uses their political connections to secure government contracts for personal advantage.
So who finances political campaigns in Kenya? It’s a difficult question to answer because campaign financing arrangements are opaque, and there’s no legal obligation for sponsors to declare all their interests. Large corporations and high net worth individuals tend to be discrete about their donations, but have been known to attend fundraising dinners and to quietly join political foundations.
This model denies the people a seat at the table by allowing only the wealthy minority to participate in determining electoral outcomes. The effect has been to lower trust in the electoral system. Coupled with deep ethnic cleavages, this has led to violence and conflict around elections as different groups jostle for the privileges that come from holding power.
The relationship between big money and the electoral process is worth considering in Kenya at a time when inter-ethnic conflict and violence is so closely linked to the electoral cycle.
Redesigning campaign financing
There is a way out of this. In a functioning democracy financing would be open and transparent to the public and not limited to a small section of the population. This would reduce the monopoly of state tools by a minority elite, by increasing the democratic space for the majority voice.
True democracy presupposes equality of opportunity and transparency in campaigning that reduces the advantage held by wealthier parties and candidates.
But how to achieve this? Given Kenya’s context it wouldn’t make sense simply to mirror the political funding models of the West. The country needs to come up with its own system to suit the African context. Campaign financing needs to be redesigned so that it’s more transparent.
That said, some attempts at reform have been made. Kenya’s main political parties are now entitled to funding by the exchequer under the Political Parties Act. But a party must have received at least 3% of the total votes cast in a general election to qualify for funding. This means that only the big parties benefit.
In the 2014-2015 financial year, for example, the National Alliance received USD$866,679, Orange Democratic Movement USD$848,239 and United Republican Party USD$273,688 on the basis of their numbers in parliament.
According to the Election Campaign Financing Act (2013) political parties can receive up to Sh15 billion (USD$150 million) in contributions, and individuals can make single contributions of up to Sh3 billion (about USD$30 million). Presidential candidates are limited to spending Sh5 billion (USD$50 million) for the duration of the campaign period.
The law doesn’t bar political parties and candidates from raising funds to facilitate their campaigns, or making use of money raised by their friends through events such as fundraising dinners.
But even existing regulations aren’t strictly adhered to. For instance, political parties are failing when it comes to campaign-finance reporting. In practice, very little meaningful political finance data is reported, and even less is easily available to the public.
Reforms to Kenya’s laws on party financing are being considered. But crucial amendments to the legislation that would have improved transparency have stalled. This means that party finances are still not well tracked and therefore, large corporations and wealthy individuals can continue to heavily fund campaigns without much scrutiny.
What steps should be taken
There are steps Kenya should consider to increase the country’s resilience as a society especially during election time.
First, the country must acknowledge that there’s a connection between the money being spent and the influence of special interests on the political process.
Secondly, it’s critical to distinguish between the money necessary for a candidate’s voice to be heard, and that being used to corrupt the political process. If money must be raised for campaigns in a transparent way, then regulations and laws governing campaign financing are crucial.
Third, the issue is not necessarily the sheer amount being spent. The problem is a political system in which the overwhelming majority of political contributions come from a tiny number of individuals. Kenya must shift from this model of financing because it turns politics into a high-stakes game that very often turns violent.
Given that campaign contributions are often understood as purchases of “goodwill” whose returns benefit a select group of political entrepreneurs, reducing their margin of influence is a step in the right direction.
The threat of controversy and unrest looms over Kenya’s elections, which will be held on 8 August. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta is ahead by a whisker in the most recent opinion poll. His main challenger, Raila Odinga, has repeatedly alleged that Kenyatta plans to rig the elections.
Kenya has an unhappy history of violence, and of alleged election rigging, and the recent gruesome murder of a key official at the electoral commission has heightened anxiety. Some fear that – whatever the electoral laws say – no holds are barred in Kenyan politics.
That history of electoral problems is interwoven with a dynastic political drama that goes back more than 50 years. Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga were political allies turned enemies in the 1960s; now their sons continue the rivalry.
Kenya’s most powerful politicians are a small group, many of whom know one another socially, and many of whom have served in government together over the years. Raila Odinga’s running mate was in office for years under the old ruling party. So too was Musalia Mudavadi, one of Odinga’s close allies in the opposition coalition, whose father was also a senior politician.
Kenya’s politics can sometimes look like long-running squabbles amongst a gang of cronies, and newspaper cartoonists like to portray the Kenyan voter – routinely personified as an oppressed but doughty woman, Wanjiku – as the victim of these scheming rivals.
All the more so because these dynasties are linked to ethnic rivalry. The muted background narrative of Kenyan politics is that access to the presidency has made some communities rich while others stay poor, and politicians stand accused of fostering that narrative, stirring up tribalism to win office and pitching ordinary Kenyans into violent confrontations.
Politicians are blamed, too, for the widespread use of gifts, and cash handouts, in elections – buying votes for a few shillings and a bottle of fizzy drink, and then going on to abuse their elected office to enrich themselves through corruption.
Kenya’s elections then, appear as the ruthless game of leaders who pursue power at the expense of their people, not on their behalf. But talk to any candidate at a level below the presidency – for Kenya’s elections involve six separate ballots, for multiple positions in national and county government – and a slightly different picture appears.
The moral economy of elections
Candidates constantly complain of the demands of voters.
Need to meet women voters in a particular village? It can be arranged, but often requires ‘facilitation’ to be provided – money to organise soft drinks, and hire chairs. And once you have spoken, you cannot leave your audience empty-handed. Each person must get at least a token gift, even if it is only fifty shillings (about half a dollar).
Need to reach a wider group of influential people? Easy – speak at the funeral of some well-known local elder. But if you are to do that, you must make a donation to the grieving family. Or perhaps you are anxious about the youth vote? Here is a youth group, willing and ready to hear your message. But they might also expect that you will help them set up as motorcycle taxi riders.
And then there are the personal requests: the voter who cannot afford school fees for their children; the constituent who needs help with mounting hospital bills.
A commentator even recently suggested that the demand for “something small” was so high that the 2017 elections had made the 50-shilling note an “endangered species”. Faced with these multiple demands, candidates find little support from the party whose colours they wear. They spend their savings, or sell their assets. They borrow from family and friends. Some lose everything, impoverishing themselves and their families – and still lose the election.
Those who do win election take up office with multiple debts. The temptation to use office corruptly to repay those debts, and build up funds for the next campaign, is a strong one.
Yet many voters don’t consider their demands wrong; after all, they say, those elected often enrich themselves and ignore their constituents. Voters’ demands are a moral test.
The overall message of elections in Kenya is a simple one: government exists to bring development, and those elected are delegates, sent by their constituents to secure at least a fair portion of development - which may take any material form from youth training centres to tarred roads to a cabinet seat for a local. Voters need to be sure both that their representatives can deliver, and will respond to local demands. As a result, the campaign becomes a prolonged test of politicians’ virtue – will they meet constituents’ expectations?
Ethnicity plays into this. Bureaucratic accountability does not always work in Kenya: people don’t necessarily follow the rules. So having someone on the inside – a cousin, an in-law, a friend of a friend – is always useful. So too with politics: voters want representatives on whom they feel have some moral claim. That need not be ethnic – but it may often coincide with ethnicity.
And, of course, voters want to feel that their representative, in turn, has similar claims on people further up in the hierarchy of power. Ordinary people do not need to be ‘tribalists’ to vote on ethnic lines; they just need to doubt the impartiality of the system.
Once they do, they will begin to think that development may be denied them unless ‘their man’ wins office. Which is not to say that Kenya’s politicians are not culpable, for their behaviour has encouraged ethnic politics, and lavish electoral spending. Nor is it to excuse the high-stakes games around the presidential election that currently threaten to generate political unrest.
But this moral economy of elections does help to explain why Kenyan voters turn out in large numbers to cast their ballots. Kenya’s electoral politics are not just an elite game of thrones; they are driven by the demands and concerns of ordinary people, trying to navigate their way to the uncertain promised land of development.