Kenyan Elections: Where Democracy And People Die In The Darkness

With a decisive victory over his political opponents, Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected as the President of Kenya for a second term. Kenyatta, a seasoned politician who ran on a platform to continue his vision of pan-Kenyan identity, received a sweeping 98.25% of the vote. His main rival, Raila Odinga from the Orange Democratic Movement, contended that Kenyatta’s victory is a product of the fraudulent electoral system at work. As the New York Times explains, after a grueling first round of elections, Odinga challenged the electoral results, causing the Supreme Court to evaluate the design and efficacy of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission – the institution responsible for carrying out these elections.

The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has often come under fire for accepting bribes from established politicians like Kenyatta. During the Supreme Court’s cursory investigation of fraud in the first round of the presidential election, the IEBC was unable to turn over communication records or access to computer servers, citing “technological difficulties”. These inconsistencies led the Court to nullifying the first round of elections, shedding an important light on the lack of transparency within the institutions that reinforce the power and patronage of the Kenyan political establishment. And despite the notoriety the IEBC has gained since these revelations came out in September, there remains to be seen any evidence of reform, or at the very least, apology.

Frustrations centered around the faults of political institutions like the IEBC continue to stymie any hopes of political aspiration from opposition candidates. Odinga, Kenyatta’s largest threat to job security, suspended his campaign before the second round, citing the IEBC’s delayed responses (or lack thereof) to electoral reforms. This seems to be a common theme in the discourse of the political opposition. Representatives of the Orange Democratic Movement claim the electoral process is neither free, nor fair, effectively stifling political competition and excluding differing political worldviews from the national conversation. But it’s not just political parties that are sidelined by Kenyatta’s disputed victory – the people of Kenya appear to be angry too.

Swaths of opposition loyalists in western Kenya were barred from voting in the second round of elections, triggering an onset of protests that eventually turned violent in the Kawangware neighborhood of Nairobi. As the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights reports, at least 24 people have died from election-related violence and at least 4 more people have died since the second round results of the election were released to the public. These instances of violence have also reinvigorated the existing ethnic tensions that run rampant throughout Kenya. Kenyatta belongs to the Kiyuku ethnic community, a group that has long been accused of wielding too much political and economic power. The more than 40 ethnic groups that reside in Kenya are in constant competition with one another for resources, making it near impossible for the government to facilitate peace talks. These struggles to appease marginalized ethnic groups continue to pose a security threat to both Kenyatta’s future administration and the Kenyan state at large.

Failures of political institutions and the willingness of the establishment to exploit those faults have severely debased the democratic efforts within Kenya. Political pluralism and universal suffrage are concepts rather than realities. Ethnic tensions continue to ignite violent demonstrations. And political actors like Kenyatta appear to turn a blind eye to these concerns.

Tanya Mahadwar