Though scarred by memories of election-related violence a decade ago, Kenya’s voters would rather have a fair and credible result in next month’s hotly contested presidential election than an inconclusive but peaceful vote.
Analysts at a Wednesday panel discussion by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the election, a rematch between incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and National Super Alliance candidate Raila Odinga, is shaping up to be very different than the 2013 election.
In 2013, the Kenyan government enacted a series of measures designed to prevent any escalation of political violence. As a result, there was a much more peaceful vote — even though the vote was contested and widely perceived as fraudulent — than in the 2007-08 elections that claimed 1,200 lives.
Mark Bellamy, a senior adviser to the Africa Program at CSIS, said the candidates bear a “tremendous amount of responsibility” to “ensure that they don’t raise the stakes so high in this election” that they can’t peacefully accept what the country votes for, even if they don’t get the outcome they want.
In May, The Washington Times reported that 70 percent of the Kenyan electorate feared for the repeat of violence after the ethnic conflict that ensued after the 2007 elections.
Today, just weeks ahead of Kenya’s presidential election, several issues that influenced this concern continue to loom.
“You have an overall lack of public confidence in key institutions, and that is a worrying dynamic in this election,” said Lauren Blanchard, a specialist in African affairs with the Congressional Research Service. “[There’s] still a bunch of lingering questions about whether or not there may be some bias or influence by the Jubilee government.”
Ms. Blanchard also said she thinks there is less public confidence now than there was in 2013 in Kenya’s judiciary, particularly in its Supreme Court — the body that handles all appeals and challenges of election results.
Last weekend, Mr. Kenyatta and Chief Justice David Maraga clashed when Mr. Kenyatta criticized the judiciary for allowing his opponents to “use the courts and to intimidate the IEBC [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission], thinking they will win using the back door.”
On top of that, Ms. Blanchard said that the opposition believes that the system is “rigged in a number of ways,” from voters having trouble obtaining a Voter ID card to voter suppression — like the implementation of curfews in select counties.
The panel said that if the results of the election spawn political violence, “it is a dilemma for the international community.” The Trump administration does not have a set protocol if Kenya’s election turns uncivil, but it is clear that the East African nation is important to the United States.
Not only has Kenya gone through a decade of robust GDP growth that has spawned the advancement of universities, financial institutions and hospitals that rank among the most advanced in Africa, Kenya is also a vital security partner in the United States, as it borders United States adversary Somalia. Kenya’s importance is highlighted by the fact that it regularly receives the most financial aid from the U.S. out of any other country on the continent.
James Smart, an experienced journalist based in Nairobi, said it is still unclear what role the media will play in the election.