15 August 2017

Africa: Kenya's Election - the Good, the Bad and the Memorable Moments

Photo: Kevin Odit/The Nation
Voters queue at Ziwa La Ngombe Primary School in Mombasa.
analysis

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.

Disclosure statement

Faith Kiboro receives some research funding from the East African Resilience Innovation Hub funded by IDRC

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