Sunday, February 10, 2013



Elections are due to take place here in just under three weeks, on March 4th. The last time that Kenya went to the polls in a general election - in December 2007 - the resulting dispute over the results led to violence in which 1,500 people were killed and a further 200,000 displaced from their homes. The violence in most cases, was targeted against specific ethnic groups linked to the major political parties and candidates, and as the days passed retaliatory attacks took place. As a result of the post-election violence, an international team of negotiators, which included former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, was called in to negotiate a settlement. (A previous attempt by Ghanaian President and African Union Chairman John Kufuor in early January had failed). On February 28th, 2008 the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki and his main rival Raila Odinga signed a power-sharing agreement called the National Accord and Reconciliation Act which established a coalition government and installed Odinga as Prime Minister, a new political position. The power-sharing government managed to restore and maintain peace.

A Kikuyu-owned store in Nakuru was set on fire by Luos,
after Kikuyus had burned down Luo homes and businesses.
Photo credit: Robertio Schmidt/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images
A new constitution  

In August 2010 Kenyan went to the polls again, this time to vote for a new constitution to replace the 1969 constitution. The new constitution was approved by 67% of voters. The constitution had been in development since 2005 but internal politics within the government at the time had stalled the review and drafting process. The deadlock was only broken in 2008, when the international mediation team demanded that the re-writing of the constitution be part of the power-sharing agreement. The constitution was well received internationally as well as nationally for the human rights that it recognises and upholds, and for the measures it puts in place to curb corruption. The new constitution re-organises the Kenyan political system with one of the key changes being that of devolution. 47 new counties were created under the new constitution and given significant budgetary and administrative autonomy. It falls short of a federal system but each county will have a directly elected Governor and County Government. The upcoming election will be the first test of this new county structure.

The International Criminal Court

One of the conditions of the agreement brokered in February 2008 was that criminal prosecutions of those who incited or organised the violence would happen within two years.When by March 2010 this still had not occurred, the case was referred to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Cases were initially brought against six people - commonly referred to as the Ocampo Six (after ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo). These six people were William Ruto MP (former Minister for Education), Uhuru Kenyatta (deputy prime minister at the time of the pre-trial), radio host Joshua Sang, Francis Muthaura (head of the civil service at the time), Henry Kosgey MP and Mohammed Hussein Ali (postmaster general and former

In January 2012, the ICC announced that it had enough evidence to bring four of the six accused to a full trial at the Hague. The four were Ruto, Kenyatta, Sang and Muthaura. The case looks like to begin in the Hague in April of this year. Two of the accused were declared presidential candidates at the time of this announcement - Kenyatta and Ruto. They have since joined together on the one ticket, with Kenyatta vying for the position of President, and his running mate Ruto for the position of Vice-President. The ICC case, and its potential implications for the elections has been debated for months. (A really great opinion piece by Ken Opalo which delves into this in far greater detail can be found here).

Election delays - past delays and potential for future ones?

The elections were delayed, and delayed again throughout 2012. Initially scheduled to take place in August 2012, they were then pushed back to December until finally March 2013 was agreed upon by all parties, the High Court and Supreme Court, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Incumbent politicians (for obvious reasons) and the IEBC were among those pushing for the elections to be held as late as possible. The IEBC was the body tasked with re-drawing all of the electoral boundaries, and drawing new county boundaries, as well as overseeing the running of the election.

Voter registration, having been delayed by the delay in delivery of biometric voter registration finally began in  late November last year and a total of  14.3 million Kenyans registered (geographic breakdown available here), falling short of the 18 million target (and this was even after the deadline for registration was extended).

As voters go to the polls on March 4th they will be asked to fill out six ballots for six different positions - president, county governor, MP, senator, county representative and women's representative. There is already a great deal of speculation of the effect that this large number of ballots will have on voters. Will it cause confusion? Delays?

Delays seem extremely like. According to a trial run of the election conducted by ELOG Kenya (Elections Observer Group, a collection of civil society organisations who are monitoring the elections) the average voter took 10 minutes to fill out all six ballot papers. If this is replicated across the country, there will be massive delays at polling centres, will it really be possible for 10 million + people to vote in the one day?

Presidential Run-off

The new constitution dictates that the president must receive the support of the majority of voters, i.e 50.1% of the votes. If this does not occur, then the top two candidates must compete in a run-off election. Looking at polling data in Kenya it is looking increasingly likely that neither of the top two candidates - Uhuru Kenyatta or Raila Odinga will get over 50% in the first round. As such a run-off sometime in April is highly likely. Ken Opalo, the main man crunching the numbers during this election posted his predictions on this on Friday.

The implications of a run-off are manifold. Not least of which a run-off will coincide with the time when the ICC will be calling the four suspects - including Presidential and Vice Presidential aspirants Kenyatta and Ruto- to begin their trial.

Presidential debate

Brookhouse International  School's auditorium where tomorrow night's debate will be held
For the first time in Kenya's history, two live presidential debates will be conducted, the first of which is happening tomorrow night - Monday February 11th. Six candidates will address the nation in this historic event - Kenyatta, Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth and James Ole Kiyaipi - which will be broadcast on 8 TV channels, and 34 radio stations across the country, making it the biggest media event in Kenyan history. For those of you outside Kenya interested in following it, it will also be streamed online by Google/YouTube's Kenya election channel.

All eyes will be on the two main contenders - Kenyatta and Odinga. It is rare that politicians address each other, and the nation, in this way and there is a great deal of excitement and expectation surrounding the debates. The public was asked to submit questions and topics and so far 5,000 questions have been put forward. All of the facts and figures about the debate can be found in this Standard article.

Differing opinions

A good friend of mine works at the British High Commission and spent much of January 17th and 18th observing  the primary elections here. My friend, having observed a number of polling stations across the city, and having done similar work in other countries, was quite positive about what she had seen. As a result she is much more positive about what will happen in March aswell. She said there were two things in particular which impressed her.

The first was the strong police presence at polling station. She observed 2-3 officers at every station she visited, and in almost every case they were managing the, often slightly disgruntled, crowd well. Her second cause for optimism was this crowd themselves. Despite the delays and the mismanagement the crowd reacted largely peacefully. They were annoyed by the obvious lack of organisation and coordination by the various political parties and the IEBC  but this rarely spilled over into violence

Last Friday at work we had a briefing on security and our office's contigency plans. At the end of the meeting my country director asked people, in particular my Kenyan colleagues, as to what their feelings were about the elections, what did they think would happen. Most people admitted that there was a potential for the elections to go either way, but most people appeared to be 'hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst'.

Here are some of the issues/ideas raised by my colleagues that could having a bearing on what happens in March:

  • More people will be voting in Nairobi than in previous elections. Voter registration stands at about 120% in the city. The elections were traditionally held in December, a time when Kenyans travelled up-country for the Christmas holidays and so voted in their ancestral homes. What effect might this have on the elections?
  • On Friday next (the 15th) the High Court in Kenya is due to deliver the so-called 'Integrity Ruling' to determine whether Kenyatta and Ruto are eligible to contest the election under the new constitution. A case has been brought against the two men by 4 NGOs including the International Center for Policy and Conflict and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) . The groups have argued that Kenyatta and Ruto do not meet the criteria for holding public office under Chapter Six of the constitution which calls for honesty, intergrity etc to be upheld in all Kenyan public/political institutions including the parliament and presidency.
  • Rumours won't be spread during this election at count centres and other physical areas of congregations, they will be spread via Twitter, Facebook and SMS. This happened to an extent during the last election as well. How can this be regulated? (There are people trying to monitor this - see this Guardian article for more information on the Umati project).
  • The elections are a prime opportunity for both petty thugs, and terrorist elements such as Al Shabaab, to tack advantage of the unstable situation, in the first case to perpetrate crime and looting, and in the second case to carry out opportunistic terrorist attacks.
  • The presence of the police and military will be a big determinant of whether or not the elections turn violent. A strong presence by these two bodies could help quell potential unrest.

Further reading

There are many, many reports, articles, blogs opinion pieces on the Kenyan elections. For those of you interested in doing some more reading here are links to a couple of the most interesting, in my opinion. 

(The blog title comes from the most popular hashtag that is being used to tweet about the election.)

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