Kenyan Political Conflicts: An Unfinished Business


In prelude to Kenya’s general elections in 2017, violence has again erupted in some cities including Nairobi, its capital. A recent clash between opposition demonstrators and police officers grew especially violent on June 6 in Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu. In this incident, at least two people were killed from gunshots while scores of others were wounded or arrested. One of the wounded included a five-year-old child. The week preceding this saw the death of at least three protesters, again shot by police officers. The violence followed after protests by opposition groups demanding the resignation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the group behind main opposition leader Raila Odinga’s defeat of Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 election.

The opposition has decried this excessive use of force by security officers and has vowed to continue until the commission is brought down. To the Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, it is the constitutional right of the people to demonstrate but, nothing will change after all. To him, the commission was set up by some of the opposition members who, in 2011, were in the government, and did not criticize it. This particularly applies to the leader of the opposition group, Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), Raila Odinga who was Prime Minister of Kenya in 2011.

The violent struggle Kenya is facing today is an upshot of the post-election violence of 2007/2008, which led to the death of about 1,400 persons. The former United Nations (UN) scribe, Kofi Annan was brought in as a mediator to broker a deal between the two rival factions. This led to the revision of Kenya’s constitution and the formation of a government of “national unity,” thereby creating the position of Prime Minister, which is occupied by Odinga. However, the power-sharing government never solved the problems of Kenya and that of electoral fraud. In one of his write ups, Peace and Development Professor, Tagou Celestin proposed a model of rotating democracy, rather than power sharing. To him power-sharing blocks the proper functioning of the government as either side cannot really embark on any meaningful project until the other approves of it. For example, the power-sharing government of Zimbabwe also failed to bring an end to the country’s hardship. Instead, the various candidates were just winding time while waiting for the next electoral confrontation where they will outplay the same people who are part of the government with them. In a power-sharing government, members spend more time spying on the others and planning how to defeat their interlocutor in the next electoral confrontation. For Tagou Celestin, power should be rotating from one place to another where people will be given their own time to fully express themselves while in power.

Moreover, those at the grassroots level never enjoyed the full tenure of the power-sharing government, even nearly ten years after the conflict; neither justice nor reconciliation has taken place, especially following the dismissal of the cases against Kenya’s President and his Vice, William Ruto, by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Compensations to victims of the violence have not come and the tens of women who were raped still see their rapist parading the streets.

At the end of that controversial election, Kenya had “two Presidents:” the first being the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, who hurriedly arranged for a swearing in ceremony just three days after voting took place, and the second, the opposition ODM leader, Raila Odinga. There are still thousands of Kenyans who are filled with anger and the spirit of revenge for the awful experience they went through in 2007/2008, yet little or nothing has been done to ease the tension. Any election in Kenya today seems to call for violence, and one year before the 2017 election, blood has already being spilled. But, how did Kenya find itself in such a shaky position?

On December 27, 2007, general elections were held in Kenya. These elections were three-fold and saw the: election of the President, election of National Assembly members, and election into local councils. The two frontline candidates were the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, under the banner of Party of National Unity (PNU), and the leader of the opposition coalition, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), Raila Odinga. At the start of the vote counting exercise, Odinga was winning but, at the end of the process, the incumbent was declared winner by the Electoral Commission of Kenya before a group of carefully selected journalists by the government. Immediately, members of the opposition descended down the streets of major towns and promised to swear in Odinga as President the following day, December 31, 2007. The government replied that this would be tantamount to a coup. And so, that was the beginning of a violent spree that caused the death of about 1,400 persons, and more than 600,000 displaced as a result. First, former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor stepped in as Mediator and left in January 2008. Then, Kofi Annan came in and his mediation led to the signing of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, which saw Odinga and cabinet members being sworn in on April 17, 2008.

What happened in 2007/2008 benefited the Kenyan politicians who were mostly appointed or maintained their positions that were at stake. However, the country remained as a ticking time bomb, which may explode at any time. The situation should not be limited to just the IEBC, instead holistic attention should be given to the Kenyan case.