The Kenyan Elections: A Surprisingly Democratic And Peaceful Affair – Analysis


By Gurjit Singh

The multi-tiered elections in Kenya were held in August, covering the Presidency, both houses of the Parliament, county governors, and members of the 47 county assemblies. What is noteworthy is that these elections were devoid of violence. Although differences in the election results led to election petitions, the lack of violence is a major gain for Kenyan democracy.

This bodes well for a region that is otherwise caught up in conflict; this includes countries such as Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. Similarly, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (recently admitted to the East African Community) are also descending into chaos. Kenya has now become the beacon of East Africa as it has shown progress, both politically and economically

In the Presidential election, Deputy President William Ruto of the Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) coalition defeated Raila Odinga of the Azimio La Umja (Resolution to Unity) coalition by a narrow margin, securing 7,176,141 or 50.49 percent of votes, whilst Odinga polled 6,942,930 or 48.85 percent of votes. The decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the announcement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of the election of Deputy President Ruto as the new president was met with dismay from the Opposition, however, did not lead to any street violence.

Raila lost the presidential election for the fifth time and at 77 is now perhaps too old to mount further challenges. Ruto, at 55, is amongst the younger politicians. He came to light as a youth leader and political organiser under the second President, Daniel Arap Moi, who consolidated the Kalenjin coalition of tribes into the second largest group in Kenya. The Kikuyus had three Kenyan Presidents: Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta. The Kikuyus are the dominant tribe politically and economically. The rivalry between the two tribes has not subsided, and the struggle for power continues. Due to such divisions, every election since has been marred by violence. The worst episode was in 2007–8 when both President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto were accused of crimes and charged by the International Criminal Court.

The ICC could not proceed with matters because of the lack of information and evidence from Kenya. The case against Uhuru Kenyatta was dropped in 2015 and subsequently, in 2016, the case against Ruto was also dropped due to the lack of evidence. Whilst many would like to remember Ruto as one of the architects of the 2007 election violence, his main political advantage is his organisational skills, which he used for Moi and later for Kibaki.

Ruto felt abandoned by Uhuru but had enough confidence in his own organisational ability. Though Uhuru ‘shook hands’ with his traditional opponent, Raila, to bring the Kikuyus and Luos together, Ruto inherited Moi’s Kalenjin mantle and obtained the support of the Kikuyus. It is evident that the Kikuyu-Luo rivalry has not diminished, despite Ruto’s assertion that the election was about class and not tribe as he was not a dynast but a humble chicken farmer. Kenya’s political structure remains centred on the dominance of the Kikuyu tribe and their desire to keep the Luos away but share power with smaller tribes.

Ruto felt like a discarded deputy president with almost no role in government and no responsibilities. Despite that, he ensnared Uhuru’s Kikuyu constituency which did not transfer its support to Raila as Uhuru sought.

The traditional alliance preferred Ruto over the Raila-Uhuru coalition. Not only did Ruto hold his own vote strongly, but he also won in many places in the central province of Kenya where the Kikuyus and Kenyatta have a stronghold. His increase in vote share was critical for his victory. Raila lost his vote share, even in areas where he had traditionally won in earlier elections, including the Mombasa Coast and in constituencies eastwards of Nairobi. The number of constituencies that Raila held on to with large margins was also considerably reduced. The inability to hold onto traditional voting bases and acquire new ones was a factor in his loss.

The voter turnout fell to about 65 percent, the lowest in 15 years. The margins of vote share had a larger impact in favour of Ruto. Some people suggest that this election was well managed by Ruto and his team.

Over this election period, opinion polls consistently showed Raila winning because the coalition that he had forged seemed unbeatable. What the polls did not notice was the undercurrent going against Uhuru in his own areas. Thus, Ruto’s victory for the media was a surprise. A closer look at the poll methodology and vote shares is necessary for improving voter turnout, given that the youth are disenchanted with the political process and did not choose to vote.

The Supreme Court’s verdict

Raila decided to take the verdict in stride, and though he and his team protested, they followed the election law, appealing whilst keeping in view the timelines. The Supreme Court led by their first ever woman Chief Justice Martha Koome disregarded the appeal. This was different from five years ago, when the Supreme Court annulled the election and called for a fresh election. At that time, Uhuru was declared the victor, defeating Raila, who then did not contest the new election.

The IEBC conducted a fairly efficient election and published data as they received it. This was overwhelming for a system which was not used to such transparency. However, whilst tallying the results, inconsistencies emerged. This strangely split the IEBC and four of the more recent appointees by Uhuru withdrew from the final announcement by the IEBC. They held their own separate press conference for reasons which are not entirely clear and evidently did not stand up in court. However, this muddied the results of the elections and caused consternation, particularly since apprehensions of violence run deep in and around Kenya. Fortunately, the courts abided by the timelines in a transparent manner which led to Ruto being declared the president.

Ruto appears to have reached out to Raila and to Kenyatta. This is important because in the parliamentary elections, the two sides got fairly close numbers. In the 67-member Senate, Kwanza won 24 to Azimio’s 23 and both nominated 10 members to cover special interests. In the assembly, Azimio won 173 to Kwanzas 161 in the 349-seat House. Some interest groups, from within the Raila coalition, are moving in Parliament towards aligning with Ruto. Ruto has managed to win the leadership of the both Houses of Parliament showing his domination there, despite the closely run election

This will continue to happen, as they may seek a place in the political sun for the next five years. Also, with Raila’s future uncertain, it is to be seen whether the other large tribes like the Luhyas and Luos come up with new leadership. Ruto may not have turned tribal rivalry into a class struggle but he has become a non-dynastic leader and this may set in motion changes within parties and provinces.

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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