Presidential, legislative and regional elections were held in Kenya on March 4, 2013. These are the first general elections under a new constitution adopted in 2010.
The President of Kenya is the head of state and government and serves a five-year term, renewable once. The Vice President is the running mate of the winning presidential candidate. In the past, the President was elected by first past the post in a single-round election with no runoff. Under the new constitution, a runoff is held if no candidate has won over 50% of the vote in the first round and at least 24% in half (24) of Kenya’s 47 counties. The office of Prime Minister, created in 2008 as part of a power sharing agreement following the 2007-2008 crisis, will be abolished and the President will regain his traditional powers as head of state and government.
However, the new constitution granted wider powers to the Parliament, which will now be composed of two houses: the National Assembly (previously the unicameral legislature) and a new Senate. The National Assembly, formerly consisting of 224 members, will now have 350 members – 290 of these will be elected by FPTP in single-member districts (whose boundaries were established by a new boundary and electoral commission, the IEBC). 47 seats will be reserved for women, with each county electing one woman. The remaining seats are reserved for special interest groups, such as young voters or people with disabilities (they will be nominated).
The Senate will consist of 68 members, 47 of which will be elected by FPTP in Kenya’s 47 counties. 16 seats are reserved for women, and it seems as if they be elected in proportion to the share of seats held by each political party in the 47 districts. Four seats are reserved for young people (2 seats) and people with disabilities (2 seats).
For the first time since independence, the new constitution devolves significant powers to 47 counties, although Kenya remains a centralized rather than federal state. Voters in each county will directly elect a governor and a county assembly (elected in single-member wards by FPTP).
The usual meme about Kenya is that it is a model of democracy, rule of law and political stability in turbulent East Africa. That is not the case, nor has it ever been the case. This idyllic image of Kenya was dealt a big blow following the contested 2007 presidential election, when supporters of the defeated candidate clashed with supporters of the incumbent president, killing up to 1,500 people and displacing up to 300,000 others. The 2007-2008 post-election violence was not an unprecedented violent outburst of ethnic violence, it was the culmination of decades and decades of ethnic politics and government-sanctioned ethnic favoritism and oppression.
Kenya gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1963 and became a republic in 1964. Kenya’s first President, who ruled the country until 1978, was Jomo Kenyatta. Kenyatta had been one of the main leaders of the struggle for independence against Great Britain, a movement which began in earnest following World War II. The nationalist movement was spearheaded by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu people, a tribe which lives in the interior central highlands. Under colonial rule, Britain encouraged white immigration and allowed for the growth of a white planter/grower elite in the Rift Valley and the surrounding central highlands. These large-scale coffee plantations were dependent on Kikuyu labour, the Kikuyu were subjected to the most pressure from settlers. The Kikuyu, but also the Luo, formed the bulk of the Kenyan African National Union (KANU), Kenyatta’s party and the ruling party until 2002.
After independence, Kenyatta’s policies largely favoured the Kikuyu (and their allies, the Embu and Meru). For example, white plantations were mostly broken up and given to black farmers – mostly Kikuyu – forming a black/Kikuyu elite with economic and political power. The unequal distribution of land between the various tribes, and the tradition of the ruling tribe using political/state power to further their interests at the expense of their rivals has created the current climate of ethnic animosities and resentment. In power, Kenyatta largely adhered to a conservative and pro-Western policy, in contrast to other African liberation leaders who turned to the Soviet Union and experimented with socialism or statist policies. After 1969, after Kenyatta banned the Luo-based opposition KPU, Kenya became a de facto one-party state under the KANU.
After Kenyatta’s death in 1978, he was succeeded by his Vice President, Daniel arap Moi, a Kalenjin. By the mid-1980s, Moi had turned Kenya into a de jure authoritarian one-party state and had concentrated power in the hands of the Kalenjin (while cooperating with the Kikuyu). Moi remained in power by exploiting ethnic tensions, political violence, inciting ethnic violence and repression of opposition. Under international pressure, Moi was forced to liberalize the country in the 1990s and open up to multi-party politics and elections. He was, however, able to win the 1992 and 1997 elections – generally free but not fair elections.
Barred from running again in 2002, Moi tried to manage the presidential succession in his favour by promoting the candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of the first President, against that of Mwai Kibaki, Moi’s former Vice President, who assembled a multiethnic opposition coalition (the National Rainbow Coalition). Moi’s strategy backfired and resulted in a humiliating defeat for Kenyatta. Kibaki won the 2002 election with 62% of the vote.
Under Kibaki’s first term, Kenya enjoyed consistently strong economic growth, up to 7% growth in 2007, but inequalities increased and corruption remained widespread and ingrained in politics. The multiethnic coalition, the National Rainbow Coalition, did not last long. In a 2005 referendum on a proposed constitution, certain members of the ruling coalition – notably Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo, joined with KANU to successfully campaign for a NO vote.
Raila Odinga was Mwai Kibaki’s main opponent in the 2007 presidential election. Initial results indicated that Odinga had won, but the final results released by the government proclaimed Kibaki as the victor with 47% against 44% for Odinga. The election was marred by serious allegations of fraud and vote rigging, and it is indeed quite likely that Odinga actually won the election.
The election was followed by a wave of bloodshed, ethnic/tribal violence and rioting. Odinga’s Luo and Kalenjin supporters targeted Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, followed by Kikuyu retaliation. The 2007-2008 crisis claimed up to 1,500 lives and displaced 300,000 people from their homes. The violence petered out as Odinga and Kibaki shared a power-sharing agreement at the end of February 2008 and formed a coalition government in April 2008, with Odinga as Prime Minister and Kibaki as President.
The power-sharing period since 2008 has been described by most as chaotic, but it was at least successful in restoring order (and economic growth) to the country. Kibaki and Odinga both backed the 2010 constitution, ratified by voters in a referendum. The power-sharing government finally got to work on land reform issues, creating (after much wrangling) an independent National Land Commission which has the power settle land disputes and recommend land policies.
Kenyan politics is still all about ethnicity, tribes and complex (and often short-lived) ethnic/tribal alliances. Ideology is barely a factor in electoral campaigns, and none of the leading political parties and coalitions can be said to have a coherent ideology – in fact, a lot of those parties and coalitions tend to be tribal personal vehicles for a leading politician.
Two-thirds of Kenyans are ‘Bantu’, deriving from people who came to eastern and southern Africa over 2000 years ago from western and central Africa during the Bantu Migration. The other third of Kenyans are ‘Nilotic’ people, who originally came from present-day South Sudan and speak Nilo-Saharan (rather than Niger-Congo) languages. The Bantu/Nilotic distinction has little to do with the current ethnic politics; the main ethnic groups in Kenyan politics are the Kikuyu, Luo, Luhya, Kalenjin and Kamba.
The Kikuyu (Bantu), the ruling elite under Kenyatta and arguably under Kibaki’s first term, make up about 17-20% of the population (more if their traditional Embu and Meru allies are included) and live in the central highlands. The Luo (Nilotic), make up about 10-14% of the population, reside on the shores of Lake Victoria in Nyanza Province. Barack Obama’s father was a Luo. The Luhya (Bantu) make up about 13% of the population and live in the highlands in the Western Province, north of Lake Victoria and east of Uganda. The Kalenjin (Nilotic), make up 11-13% of the population, mostly in the highlands of the Rift Valley. The Kamba (Bantu), finally, make up 10-11% of the population, found largely in areas to the east of Nairobi. Smaller groups include the Kisii in Nyanza Province, the Mijikenda along the coast, the well-known semi-nomadic Maasai near the Tanzanian border and Somalis in the arid desert areas bordering Somalia.
Elections in Kenya are about forging alliances between various rival ethnic groups against other rival ethnic groups. These alliances never last very long, and most opponents in a presidential election used to be allies in past contests against another candidate or party.
The semi-incumbent in this race is the outgoing Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, who is running under the banner of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) which includes his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Raila Odinga is the son of Oginga Odinga, a Luo who briefly served as the country’s first Vice President under Jomo Kenyatta until 1965. Oginga Odinga later founded the Kenyan People’s Union (KPU), a Luo-based opposition party, banned in 1969. Oginga and Raila were opponents of Moi’s regime, and the father ran in the 1992 elections and Raila ran in the 1997 elections. Raila Odinga briefly reconciled with Moi after the 1997 election and served in his cabinet between 2001 and 2002. He joined forces with Mwai Kibaki in the 2002 election, but he broke with Kibaki shortly thereafter and opposed the 2005 constitutional draft. Odinga’s core base of support resides, naturally, with the Luo.
His running mate this year is incumbent Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, a Kamba who is the current leader of the hilariously named ‘Wiper Democratic Movement’. Kalonzo Musyoka ran for president in his own right in 2007, as an ODM dissident, but took only 9% of the vote. The CORD is largely a Luo/Kamba alliance, but it has a base of Luhya support as well.
His main opponent is Uhuru Kenyatta, and his running mate William Ruto – together they form the Jubilee Coalition. Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, is the son of Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta (1964-1978). His political career began, humiliatingly, in 2002 when he was promoted by Moi as his hand-picked successor but lost the 2002 election to Kibaki by a huge margin. He allied with Odinga and other politicians during the 2005 referendum. Uhuru Kenyatta served as finance minister between 2008 and 2012 and is also a Deputy Prime Minister. Kenyatta founded his own personal vehicle, The National Alliance (TNA). His running mate is William Ruto, a Kalenjin, and former agriculture and later higher education minister. He is the leader of the United Republican Party (URP).
Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are infinitely controversial politicians, given that both have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in inciting and perpetrating ethnic violence during the 2007-2008 crisis. Kenyatta is accused of having organized a Kikuyu militia, the Mungiki, during the violence. Ironically, Kenyatta – a Kikuyu – and Ruto – a Kalenjin – found themselves on opposite sides of the violence in 2007-2008 but they seem to have found common ground with the ICC indictments. Their ICC indictments were not a huge factor in the campaign, given that a lot of politicians in Kenya – even Odinga – want Kenyan courts rather than the ICC to settle the post-election violence from 2007-2008. The main controversy surrounding Uhuru Kenyatta at home might be the allegations that by way of his powerful family, he owns vast tracts of land in central Kenya. His rivals attacked him on this topic during debates, but he denies that he owns large expanses of land.
Kenyatta and Odinga are the two top candidates, but there is a third contender: deputy prime minister Musalia Mudavadi, a Luhya. Mudavadi, who was Kenyatta’s running mate in 2002 and Odinga’s running mate in 2007, is the leader of the Amani coalition which includes Mudavadi’s United Democratic Forum (UDF) but also the remnants of KANU, controlled by Daniel arap Moi’s son Gideon Moi. Mudavadi was initially promoted by Kenyatta and Ruto in the case that the courts did not approve their candidacies, but when it became clear that Kenyatta and Ruto would be cleared to run, Mudavadi broke with them and decided to run on his own. Mudavadi’s candidacy is supported by former Daniel arap Moi, leading some of his opponents to deride Mudavadi as Moi’s play thing and latest tool.
Ideological factors, naturally, were not a major issue in this campaign. Each candidate clearly targets particular tribes, even if they do not really use openly chauvinistic rhetoric. If there are ideological difference, Uhuru Kenyatta likely leans to the right while Raila Odinga leans more to the left – but those differences are minute and should not be taken seriously.
Turnout was 86% in the presidential election. The IEBC’s online reporting system with a map of the results for all races as results flowed in proved too good to be true, it broke down halfway through the count and threw the reporting process into the dark as the IEBC was forced to count the remaining presidential ballots manually and announce results through clunky PDF files. The results for other races (Parliament, county governors and assembly) appear incomplete and fragmentary as of now.
The results of the presidential election, as reported by the IEBC, was as follows:
Uhuru Kenyatta / William Ruto (Jubilee – TNA/URP) 50.07%
Raila Odinga / Kalonzo Musyoka (CORD – ODM/WDM) 43.31%
Musalia Mudavadi / Jeremiah Ngayu Kioni (Amani – UDF) 3.93%
Rejected ballots 0.88%
Peter Kenneth / Ronald Osumba (Eagle) 0.59%
Mohammed Abduba Dida / Joshua Odongo Onono (ARC) 0.43%
Martha Karua / Augustine Lotodo (NARC-Kenya) 0.36%
James ole Kiyiapi / Winnie Kaburu (RBK) 0.33%
Paul Muite / Shem Ochuodho (Safina) 0.1%
The IEBC has declared Uhuru Kenyatta as the president-elect, having won over 50% by the first round and taking over 25% of the vote in well over half of Kenya’s 47 counties (in 42 of them). Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga, his main rival, has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the result citing fraud and mass tampering with the results, and will challenge the result in the country’s Supreme Court. The courts may decide to overturn the result, but most seem to assume that it will not do so. The outgoing President, Mwai Kibaki, has recognized Kenyatta’s victory.
With such a narrow victory for Uhuru Kenyatta in a country where elections are ‘ethnic censuses’ and Raila Odinga challenging the results, there is some reason to fear for a repeat of the ethnic violence and bloodshed which followed the controversial 2007 election. Odinga’s Luo supporters find themselves shut out from political power yet again, while Uhuru Kenyatta’s Kikuyu ethnic group retains political power in Kenya (in an alliance with their erstwhile enemies the Kalenjin). Kenyatta’s victory will not please everybody, and with such a narrow mandate his legitimacy might be challenged. Kenya clearly remains split along ethnic lines, and this remains a major danger for democracy in the country.
However, Odinga, while challenging the result in court, has urged his supporters to remain peaceful. It seems rather unlikely that Kenya will suffer a repeat of the 2007-2008 crisis. Both men, despite playing on ethnic resentment and tensions for political gain, understand that the 2007-2008 crisis was utterly disastrous for Kenya’s economy and its image abroad. Furthermore, the 2010 constitutional reforms have reduced the potency of the issues which catalyzed the 2007-2008 crisis: devolution, which will allow Odinga’s supporters and minority groups to retain power at the county level; and the first steps on land reform issues which will hopefully resolve contentious land issues (naturally tied to ethnic tensions).
Kenyatta and William Ruto face major domestic challenges including a relatively sluggish economy, high unemployment (especially amongst younger Kenyans) and endemic corruption. They will also need to adapt to a new constitutional framework which has introduced major changes to governance in Kenya, most importantly devolution to county governments and a Parliament which will now include a second, upper, chamber (the Senate).
However, most interest in the new tandem which will govern the country comes from their indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for allegedly inciting and perpetrating ethnic violence during the 2007-2008 crisis. To gain an idea of how rapidly political allegiances and coalitions may change in Kenya, Kenyatta and Ruto were on opposite sides of the violence in 2007-2008: Kenyatta supported a Kikuyu militia which notably targeted the Kalenjin in the Rift Valley, while Ruto supported Kalenjin groups who targeted the Kikuyu. Grudges or at least erstwhile political rivalries don’t last for long in Kenyan politics, and both men appear to have found some common ground in their ICC indictments. Ruto’s trial is due to begin in late May, and Kenyatta’s trial in early July.
Kenyatta/Ruto’s victory places both men and their country in an awkward and unprecedented situation. The election was a success for democracy, especially if it is not followed by violence. Kenyatta was elected in an election which foreign observers confirmed was free and fair, and can thus claim democratic legitimacy despite a weak mandate and Odinga’s court challenge. However, the winners of this election are indicted by the ICC on several counts of crimes against humanity and have been summoned by the ICC. Unless charges are dropped soon, Kenyatta and his running-mate will join Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir in the unsavoury club of heads of states who have been indicted by the ICC.
Sudan is widely seen in the West as a ‘rogue state’ and has long been diplomatically isolated and shunned by the international community (notably the EU and the US) under al-Bashir’s authoritarian regime. However, Kenya is a key longtime regional ally for the West located in a strategic hotspot (bordering Somalia), an economic power in the region and a democracy (albeit a troubled and imperfect one). The West cannot afford to treat Kenya as a rogue state, and it will need to find a way to adapt and work with Kenyatta’s government. Nevertheless, foreign diplomats have issued some harsh statements about Kenya. The British High Commissioner said that Britain would maintain only “essential contact” (limited and minimal diplomatic interaction) with Nairobi in the case Kenyatta won, just like Britain does with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson warned, before the vote, that “choices have consequences”. China, on the other hand, welcomed Kenyatta’s victory – unsurprisingly as China has long has its eyes set on Kenya and the African continent as a whole as the traditional European powers struggle to retain their foothold in Africa.
But many feel that the ICC’s case against the new governing tandem in Nairobi is weak. The ICC might be brought to drop charges altogether in the next few months.
It is quite possible that Kenyatta/Ruto were actually helped by the ICC indictment. Although the ICC originally enjoyed strong support when it took over the Kenyan case after Kenya itself proved unwilling to seriously prosecute those behind the post-electoral violence; the ICC has quickly lost legitimacy in Kenya. Most politicians, including Raila Odinga, now want Kenyan courts rather than the ICC handling the case. For Kenyatta and Ruto’s Kikuyu and Kalenjin supporters, the ICC indictments were perceived as attacks on their entire communities rather than just those individuals. The Jubilee alliance capitalized on such sentiments and drummed up ethnic support for their ticket, presenting themselves as victims and martyrs.
The Jubilee coalition also played on lingering anti-colonial and somewhat anti-Western sentiment with some Kenyans, who dislike being lectured on democracy by former colonial masters and resent foreign intervention into their domestic politics. The British High Commissioner’s remarks before the vote caused offense to many voters, others – including some foreign observers – criticized the West for its thinly veiled implicit backing of Odinga. Kenyans also took negatively to foreign media coverage of the election. Indeed, the dominant theme in the foreign media’s coverage of the run-up to the election was reminding viewers of the post-electoral violence in 2007-2008 and pondering whether this year’s election would be followed by a repeat of the 2007-2008 ethnic violence. In many cases, Kenyans felt that the foreign media were running with their own pre-conceptions and narratives about the election and what would come out of it. Kenyatta/Ruto’s campaign used nationalistic and anti-colonial rhetoric and voiced concern over the ‘shadowy’ involvement of foreign powers (notably Britain) in the vote.
Kenyatta struck a conciliatory note in his victory speech, promising national unity, working with opponents and the usual good stuff associated with victory speeches. But he also issued a stern warning to the international community, saying that they must respect the country’s sovereignty and the democratic will of its people. While Kenyatta and Ruto have both said that they will continue cooperating with international institutions and will attend their trial in The Hague, they have also made clear that their public duties in office would take priority and prevent them from being in The Hague continually. But despite this nationalistic rhetoric, it is still tough to see Kenyatta transforming into a ‘pariah’ leader. He has the upper hand (and democratic legitimacy) in his dealings with the international community now, but he too will need to work with foreign partners.
Obviously, the presidential results revealed that Kenyan elections and politics remain very much divided by ethnicity. This election, like others in the past, was a traditional “ethnic census” election. Tribal loyalties remain key in Kenyan elections.
Kenyatta/Ruto’s Jubilee coalition united the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups of the central highlands and the Rift Valley. The Kikuyu, like Kenyatta, had backed President Kibaki over Odinga in the 2007 election; but the Kalenjin – former President Daniel arap Moi’s ethnic group – supported Odinga back in 2007. As a result, the ticket won huge margins the Kikuyu and Kalenjin heartlands – about 90 to 95% of the vote. In the counties which make up the old Central Region, the Kikuyu heartland, Kenyatta won 93.9% of the vote. In the predominantly Kalenjin Rift Valley Region, he won 72% of the vote – and well over 85 or 90% in the Kalenjin counties in that region. It appears that Kenyatta also did well with the Maasai in Kajiado County. Not quite sure what was going on in Mandera County, that deep red (92% county) in the country’s arid and desertic northeastern corner bordering Somalia. It is a largely Somali area, but Kenyatta did not sweep Somali voters.
What might have been crucial in Kenyatta’s victory was that he, unlike Odinga, managed a respectable and substantial minority share in those counties where he lost. Perhaps a sign of the dispersion of the Kikuyu throughout southern and central Kenya? Or the divided loyalties of ‘other’ ethnic groups (like the Somali) who were not integrated into either ethnic political alliance this year?
Odinga/Musyoka’s CORD united the Luo and Kamba ethnic groups, who live along Lake Victoria and in parts of the Eastern Region respectively. The Luo are Odinga’s core supporters, and he won 98-99% in Homa Bay, Siaya and Kisumu Counties along Lake Victoria, where the Luo population is concentrated. In 2007, the Kamba had backed Musyoka’s independent candidacy (a distant third); this year they supported Musyoka on the CORD ticket. Odinga won 90.7% in Makueni County, 85.9% in Machakos County and 79.5% in Kitui County – three counties with a predominantly Kamba population. Although they were not “represented” on the ticket, Odinga also found very strong support in the Coast Region, where the Mijkenda and Swahili Muslim merchants have long been clamoring for autonomy and opposed the Kikuyu ruling elites in Nairobi. A secessionist movement, the Mombasa Republican Council, tried – without much success – to disturb the election in the coastal region. Odinga won 69.8% in Mombasa and 74.9% in the Coast Region as a whole. From the map, it also appears that the smaller Kisii, Turkana, Samburu and Borana Oromo ethnic groups supported Odinga.
Odinga was victorious by a small margin in Nairobi, with 49% against 46.8% for Kenyatta.
The Luhya, concentrated in the Western Region north of Lake Victoria and on the border with Uganda, were split in this election. On the one hand, they had voted in droves for Odinga in 2007 and some Luhya leaders backed him again this year. On the other hand, there was a Luhya candidate this year - Musalia Mudavadi, Odinga’s 2007 running-mate, now running independently with the backing of former President Moi. As expected, Mudavadi did not sweep Luhya votes but they were his only substantial support base. He took 29% (against Odinga’s 62%) in the Western Region, and won a single county (Vihiga, with 49.2%) in Luhya country. He did not do nearly as well in neighboring counties, and it does not seem as if Moi’s backing brought him any substantial Kalenjin support in the Rift Valley.
I have managed to patch together incomplete results for the other elections (source):
Jubilee 135 FPTP seats + 23 women seats > at least 158 seats
CORD 117 FPTP seats + 21 women seats > at least 138 seats
Amani (Mudavidi) 18 FPTP seats
Eagle Coalition (Kenneth) 2 FPTP seats
Others/independents 18 FPTP seats
Jubilee 21 counties
CORD 20 counties
Amani 4 counties
Others/independents 2 counties
CORD 22 governors
Jubilee 17 governors
Amani 3 governors
Others 3 governors
These results are still incomplete (they do not include the nominated seats or all of the women seats in the National Assembly). But they show that while Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance has won a plurality of seats in both houses, it will likely fall short of an absolute majority even when all the nominated seats are accounted for. The article linked to above notes that, with appointed seats in the National Assembly, Jubilee would end up with 163 seats, short of an absolute majority (176/350). In the Senate, the Jubilee alliance will also fall short of an absolute majority. All this, of course, assumes that nobody switches sides, either to the government or to the opposition – an impossible proposition in Kenyan politics!
Within the new governing alliance, the TNA and URP won roughly the same number of seats with a slight edge to the TNA. The division between the two allies of convenience followed ethnic lines; Kenyatta’s TNA was strongest in the Kikuyu counties, Ruto’s URP was strongest in the Kalenjin counties. Within CORD, Raila Odinga’s ODM was the dominant force but Musyoka’s WDM-K was dominant in Musyoka’s Kamba strongholds and in the Coast Region.
The Senate will play a key role in the devolution process: it determines and oversees the allocation of revenue to counties, considers and votes on bills pertaining to counties and it must also the annual budgets for the new counties.
Assuming the results and the fragile post-electoral peace holds, Kenya will have succeeded in holding a democratic and relatively peaceful election. But what came out of that election – Kenyatta’s victory – is unlikely to please Western governments or foreign onlookers. The election was a major defeat for the ICC. Voters, who had once embraced the ICC, have now rejected it – raising major questions for the ICC’s legitimacy and support with the broader African population, but also the chances for real justice in post-conflict situations in Africa.