Kenya’s incumbent president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was recently sworn in as head of state, marking an end to a controversial and highly contested election period that spanned from August to November 2017. Elections in Kenya, as in many other African countries, are a highly emotive and divisive period. Businesses close, schools shut down, and, collectively, society holds its breath, exhaling only after the results are announced and the next government determined.
After the 2017 elections, many Kenyans reported relief at their return to normalcy from what had been a turbulent time. However, months later, the country remains divided; in August 2017, the National Police Service was criticized for using disproportionate force in quelling protests particularly in opposition stronghold regions. There were, also, rumours of tribal militia being used to settle ethnic scores through the police force. Additionally, the national opposition party, the National Super Alliance (NASA), declared its transition from a national party to a “national resistance movement” shortly after the annulment of the elections by the Supreme Court, citing authoritarian tendencies from the government and a lack of adequate reforms by the electoral commission. NASA has since rejected the results of the second election and, on the 30th of January, carried out a “mock inauguration” of its own presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, placing the country in a heightened state of tension.
While the future of Kenyan politics seems uncertain, the general election was not all doom and gloom. Electoral pluralism, voter enthusiasm and judicial autonomy were all positive highlights during the elections. Overall analysis of Kenya’s 2017 elections, therefore, requires a balanced approach.
The End of the Kenyatta/Odinga Dynasty
Since Kenya gained independence in 1963, two distinct personalities and their families have dominated the country’s political landscape. Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga were stalwarts of the struggle for Kenyan independence, with Kenyatta suffering a 7-year imprisonment prior to independence, and Odinga greatly campaigning for his release. Odinga is famous for having declined the chairmanship of independence party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), in Kenyatta’s favour. In 1963, Kenyatta and Odinga would go on to become the nation’s first president and vice president, maintaining a close and cordial association.
This association would, however, be short-lived. Shortly after Kenya’s independence, the two men fell out, with Odinga leaving KANU to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1966. At the time, Kenyatta and Odinga followed markedly different ideologies: Kenyatta was pro-capitalism, and favoured a continuation of the status-quo domestically, his foreign policy stance preferring close ties with the United States and Kenya’s former colonizer, Britain. Odinga, however, was more left-leaning, favouring land redistribution policies and social realignment after independence, as well as a “non-aligned” foreign policy.
Consequently, Kenyatta and Odinga came to represent opposite ends of Kenya’s political spectrum. Both came from (numerically) dominant tribes in the Kikuyu and Luo, and were able to leverage their ethnic positions to ensure continued political power and dominance. The demise of Kenyatta in 1978 would result in his succession by Daniel Arap Moi, who pledged to continue the policies of his predecessor. There would be a brief period of détente between Odinga and the government, but Moi’s continuation of Kenyatta-era policies damaged any hopes of real cooperation. Odinga became ostracized from national politics, retaining support mainly at a local level amongst the Luo.
Kenyatta’s demise and Odinga’s marginalization did not, however, halt the involvement of the Kenyatta and Odinga families in national politics. Sons of both men would go on to have political careers; on the one hand, in 1992, following the restoration of multi-party politics, Odinga’s son, Raila, joined his father’s political party, Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). Ralia also contested at a local political level during the general elections of that year, and went on to become a force in Kenyan politics, growing in stature to the point of unsuccessfully taking part in presidential elections in 1997.
On the other hand, following a relatively quiet business career, Kenyatta’s son, Uhuru, joined KANU in 1997. Uhuru unsuccessfully contested for a parliamentary position in his father’s former constituency in 1997, but was kept on in KANU, with party leader, Daniel Arap Moi, tacitly intending to groom him for presidency in 2002.
In the succeeding decade, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga would dominate the Kenyan political landscape, featuring prominently in each of the general elections after 1997. In 2002, Uhuru lost the presidential election to a broad coalition of which Raila was a leading member. Five years later, during the 2007 general election, however, Uhuru was on the winning side, supporting former president, Mwai Kibaki, in his bid for re-election, against Raila Odinga. Uhuru would then bid for presidency himself, capturing the presidential seat in 2013 and retaining it in 2017, both times in close contests against Raila Odinga.
Although both Raila and Uhuru would go on to form different political parties and have alliances differing with those of their fathers, they continued to represent the differing ideologies that their fathers possessed—Uhuru is perceived as a “status-quo president”, and Raila as a socially-oriented reformist, and both majorly derive their political power from their ethnic backgrounds. Their families, moreover, still retain significant economic pull: the Kenyatta family is one of the largest land-owning families in Kenya and has made significant investments in tourism, education and energy. The Odinga family is also amongst the richest in Kenya, with substantial interests in petroleum and manufacturing.
The 2017 presidential election—the last for the incumbent Uhuru and what Raila has also stated will be his last—was, thus, the last time that both Uhuru and Raila would contest in the elections, marking the end of Kenyatta-Odinga involvement in high-level politics. At present, neither family has an influential enough candidate to contest the 2022 presidential elections, and it is unlikely that either will produce any heirs to future political leadership. This may be a good thing for Kenyan politics, and some commentators opine that it may mark the beginning of more pluralist, issue-based politics.
A Peaceful and Uneventful First Round of Elections
Despite tensions arising from the murder of the Electoral Commission’s ICT Director, Chris Msando, a week before the elections, as well as the opposition’s announcement of government plans to rig elections using the military, the first round of elections went by without much incident. People woke up early, queued and voted peacefully, and before the tallying and announcement of results, life went on as normal. In addition, voter turnout was high, with 15.6 million voters (a 79.5 per cent voter turnout) announced across 40,833 polling stations in 47 counties, an indication of an overall confidence in the electoral process.
It is, perhaps, on this basis that international observers gave the first round of elections a clean bill of health. Observers such as former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, representing the Carter Centre Observation Mission, reported the elections as being “open and positive”, and expressed confidence in the capacity of the electoral commission to carry out vote tallying. Marietje Schaake, head of the EU Observer Mission, noted that her team had seen no signs of “localised or centralised manipulation” while Thabo Mbeki and John Mahama, heads of the African Union and Commonwealth Observer missions respectively, lauded the electoral commission for a fair and credible election.
The uneventful nature of the first round of elections may have, ultimately, been captured best by the coming to fame of Martin Kamotho. Kamotho, better known as “Githeriman”, became a local internet sensation after a picture of him eating githeri while queuing to vote went viral. Kamotho’s image was comically photoshopped into a variety of notable pictures and he became a minor celebrity, appearing on several local media stations and even receiving a Head of State Commendation from President Kenyatta during the December 12 Independence Day Celebrations.
The Annulment of First Round Results
Among the more notable issues during the elections was the National Super Alliance (NASA)’s fractious relationship with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). NASA accused the electoral body of being partisan (in 2016, the party had successfully lobbied for the resignation of top IEBC officials following a sustained campaign of protest towards the commission). NASA had also unsuccessfully petitioned to postpone the August 2017 elections, and alleged that the government had planned to rig the election under the auspices of the IEBC.
It, therefore, came as no surprise when NASA rejected the 2017 election results after a live stream from 96 per cent of the polling stations showed incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta as having an unassailable lead. Presidential candidate, Raila Odinga, decried the outcome, alleging that NASA had evidence that the IEBC’s servers had been hacked and the results manipulated in favour of Kenyatta. Subsequently, NASA announced that it would be challenging the results in the Supreme Court of Kenya.
Despite NASA’s claims of overwhelming evidence in their possession, few believed that their case would be successful. This was for a variety of reasons: firstly, for all intents and purposes, the election had been given a clean bill of health by the international observers, who had commended the electoral process and stated that no clear patterns of rigging had been observed. NASA’s claims were, therefore, not backed by international opinion, which seemed more inclined towards the notion that the election was free and fair.
Secondly, in 2013, after the general elections, Ralia Odinga had brought a similar petition before the Supreme Court; and despite claims of evidence of the manipulation of vote tallying, the Supreme Court almost unanimously rejected the petition. Thirdly, throughout the campaign period, NASA had maintained that the structures of government were stacked against them, and had doubted the Supreme Court’s ability to give them a fair hearing. Furthermore, before the elections, several NASA politicians had stated that, in the event of vote rigging by the incumbent government, NASA would not appeal in court as the party had done in 2013.
In view of these circumstances, NASA’s move to challenge the election results in court was perceived more as an opportunity for the party to publicize their claims of electoral manipulation as opposed to a genuine attempt at annulling the elections; and few believed that NASA had a genuine chance of getting the results overturned.
Naturally, therefore, it came as a complete surprise when the Supreme Court, in a rare case for the world and a first for Africa, annulled the 2017 elections on September 1st, citing “irregularities and illegalities” on the part of the IEBC, and setting a new election date for October 17. This significantly proved that the judiciary was an independently acting body of government, and was an assertion of the impartiality and autonomy of the Kenyan judicial system, a statement that was much needed given the circumstances.
Eminence of Ethnic Politics
While, in recent years, Kenya’s electoral commissions have vigorously campaigned for an end to “tribal politics”, and, ostensibly, Kenya moved on from the excesses of tribal violence witnessed in the 1990s and in 2007, politics in Kenya remains a largely ethnic affair. The Jubilee Party (JP) and the National Super Alliance (NASA)—the two leading political parties in Kenya—are, despite pretentions to national appeal, coalitions of “tribally-representative” parties, which largely draw their support from various regions and ethnicities in the country.
The Jubilee coalition, for instance, was formed in 2013 after a merger between 11 political parties. The largest of these parties were Uhuru Kenyatta’s The National Alliance (TNA) and William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP), which, currently, draw the bulk of their support from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes (both are among the largest in Kenya). Unofficially, TNA is seen as representative of Kikuyu interests, with URP of the Kalenjin. The merger of the two parties was, it seems, a political strategy that sought to utilize the numerical strength of their various populations to secure the presidency.
It is a similar case with the NASA coalition. NASA was formed after a previous coalition, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), joined up with other political parties. As is the case with the Jubilee Party, the major stakeholders are the representatives of ethnic groups with large numbers nationally. NASA’s main flag bearer was Raila Odinga, a Luo, with co-principals being Kalonzo Musyoka, a Kamba; Isaac Ruto, a Kalenjin; and Moses Wetangula and Musalia Mudavadi, both Luhya. These principals represent the leadership of their various majority tribes, with the coalition’s aim being to utilize collective population strength to secure power.
What this, unfortunately, means for Kenya is that its politics (as of the 2017 general elections) remain rooted on the access of regional and tribal elites to state power and resources. Consequently, the 2017 elections were more a contest of which tribal elite and, subsequently, which tribe or tribes would get the “national cake” as opposed to an avenue through which matters of real importance, such as poverty, high unemployment and unequal distribution of resources, could receive due attention.
A Turbulent Second Round
If the first round of elections was notable for its calm, the second was noteworthy for its storms. In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling, the National Super Alliance (NASA) began to agitate for electoral reforms, and demanded that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) comply with its agitations before the second round of elections. In a list of reforms termed “irreducible minimums”, NASA demanded the removal of top IEBC officials from office, a full audit of election servers and the termination of the contract for the printing of ballots the UAE Company, Al Ghurair, had won.
NASA’s requests sparked a rise in tensions within the country, and a tussle between the Jubilee Party, NASA and the IEBC ensued, culminating—following botched meetings between the parties—in NASA’s boycott of the repeat elections. The party then called for mass action from its supporters, marking the onset of a series of protests and a subsequent boycott of major companies “affiliated” with the government. During the protests, several protestors and non-partisan citizens were killed in confrontations with the police, who were accused of using heavy-handed tactics as tensions rose. NASA strongholds in Western Kenya also experienced retaliatory violence. IEBC staff training sessions were targeted for disruption by NASA supporters, with training centres destroyed and staff attacked in an escalating cycle of retribution.
Internal and external pressures would also affect the IEBC. Tensions between CEO, Ezra Chiloba, and Chairman, Wafula Chebukati, of the IEBC became apparent when a memo from Chebukati to Chiloba was leaked to the press. In the memo, Chebukati demanded answers for IEBC violations of electoral procedures, and appeared to place blame for the violations on the IEBC Secretariat, which was headed by Chiloba. This caused considerable consternation within the commission, and four commissioners within the IEBC disowned the memo, blaming Chiloba for the failed election.
Matters reached crisis point one week to the repeat elections scheduled for October. IEBC Commissioner, Roselyn Akombe, fled to the United States citing threats to her life and, subsequently, resigned from her post. Akombe alleged that there were serious internal disagreements within the IEBC and a high level of external political interference in the commission’s affairs. She also claimed that the IEBC could not conduct a free and fair repeat election. As pressure on the commission continued to mount, Chiloba took administrative leave after which Chebukati declared that he himself could not guarantee credible repeat elections.
There were also belated attempts to stall the repeat elections, which the IEBC had pushed to October 26 to allow more time for preparations. On October 25, NASA presented a petition to delay the elections, but the Supreme Court was unable to hear it as, strangely, only two of its 7 judges were available to hear the case.
The election date itself saw a massive decline in voting, with only 7.6 million votes (compared to 15.6 million in the first round, and representing 39 per cent of the 19.6 million registered voters) cast. Uhuru Kenyatta won 98 per cent of the votes, but the election was marred by low turnout. Moreover, violence in 25 constituencies, largely NASA strongholds, prevented votes from being cast at all.
Bad Omens for the Future of the Judiciary and Electoral Commission
The Supreme Court of Kenya played a central role in the 2017 general elections, becoming the first African court to annul an election in its famous decision on September 1st. This decision had followed a petition by opposition party, NASA, which claimed that the elections of August 8th were rigged, and was an outcome unexpected by many. The annulment would, however, prove to be the calm before the storm, and subsequent events would call into question the ability of Kenya’s governmental institutions to work in harmony, as well as the Supreme Court’s ability to function independently in the future.
In the months following the Supreme Court’s decision, the Parliament of Kenya moved to introduce new election regulations ostensibly aimed at preventing a repeat of the “confusion” surrounding the judgement of the Supreme Court. The National Assembly, dominated by the Jubilee Party, proposed a new Elections Act which, controversially, watered down the requirements for electronic transmission of results, emphasizing manual results as being legally binding.
The bill also limited the Supreme Court’s ability to nullify results, stating “a court shall not void an election for non-compliance with the law if it appears that the election was conducted in accordance with constitutional principles”. It also stipulated that in the event of the withdrawal of one candidate where two were contesting, the other, non-withdrawing candidate, would automatically win without any election taking place.
Government rhetoric towards the Supreme Court also became increasingly confrontational. President Kenyatta accused the court of “staging a coup” and subverting the will of the majority. Deputy President of Kenya, William Ruto, claimed that there was a conspiracy between the Supreme Court and NASA to overturn the election, noting, “…they have booked a permanent place of shame in Kenya’s history”. Furthermore, several Jubilee Party-affiliated politicians began to actively push for the removal of Supreme Court judges, presenting petitions questioning the conduct of the Chief Justice and two other judges to the High Court.
As the date of the repeat election approached, the lives of the judges would increasingly face mortal threats. Chief Justice, David Maraga, reported that the judges were receiving threats from unknown persons, and claimed the Inspector General of Police had ignored repeated calls to beef up their security. These threats were confirmed when, two days before the election, Justice Philomena Mwilu’s bodyguard sustained serious injuries after being shot by unknown people.
The Supreme Court of Kenya was unable to convene for a last-ditch petition to delay the repeat elections. The reason the court gave for this was a lack of quorum, as only two of the 7 judges were available to hear the case. With the exception of Philomena Mwilu, who was shaken by the shooting of her bodyguard, the various reasons the judges gave for their absenteeism were vague and elusive. One judge claimed they had left the country and were unable to find a return flight, while another stated they were unwell. The reasons for the absences of the other two judges were not made public.
After the repeat elections in which Uhuru Kenyatta comfortably retained the presidency, pressure on the Supreme Court of Kenya diminished. However, questions over the future independence of the Judiciary and the electoral commission remain, especially in light of the Elections Act, which is yet to be signed into law. The Supreme Court eventually convened to listen to the various petitions challenging the results of the second election and the Court dismissed all of them. According to the Supreme Court, the petition “lacked merit”. But the extent to which external pressures had impacted the court’s dismissals remains unclear.
Most evident was that the decisions of the Supreme Court had consequences, and certain decisions risked the wrath of the government. It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court bench as currently constituted will remain intact until the next elections; unfortunately for Kenya this is unlikely given the Jubilee party’s parliamentary majority.
Since Kenya gained independence, the events surrounding high-profile murders have followed a similar pattern: a key figure is assassinated, public outcry ensues, the government promises to investigate and then the matter slowly dissipates from public discourse. From the beginning of the Jubilee Party’s tenure in office in 2013, a number of high-profile figures had met suspicious deaths. In 2015, a Member of Parliament, George Muchai, and two of his bodyguards, were shot dead by unknown people at a traffic intersection in Nairobi. Muchai had been a prominent trade unionist before his death, and had survived an earlier attempt on his life. His death sparked public outcry and the police promised to investigate. A few suspects were eventually arrested and arraigned in court, but nothing conclusive came of the matter.
In 2016, unknown gunmen assassinated controversial Nairobi businessman, Jacob Juma. His bullet-ridden vehicle was found in a ditch in a Nairobi suburb on the morning of May 5th, with autopsies later revealing that the death had occurred the previous night. Prior to his assassination, Juma was a strong government critic, and claimed to have information on corrupt-government mismanagement of the Eurobond loan, which had been procured from the European Union for development projects. Curiously, the bullet-proof nature of Juma’s car as well as his injuries suggested that the assassination had not taken place at the original crime scene, and presented the possibility that his killing was part of a wider conspiracy. As was the case with George Muchai—the Member of Parliament who was assassinated in 2015—little came of the subsequent police investigation, and no one has since been charged with the murder.
Following the resignation of senior officials in late 2016, Christopher Msando became the ICT Director of the Independency Electoral and Boundaries Commission. A tech whiz with a web and database design background, Msando was tasked with coordinating the technological preparations for the 2017 elections, with his key responsibility being to ensure the efficient tallying and transmission of results from the various polling stations. As such, Msando was one of the few officials in IEBC with access to electoral servers, and was well informed on the IEBC’s electoral preparedness and technology.
On the morning of Saturday, July 29, the naked bodies of a man and young woman were found in a thicket in Kikuyu, a township approximately 12 miles north of Nairobi. The bodies showed signs of torture: there were injuries to the man’s neck, back, arms and head as well as lacerations on the woman’s neck, which suggested that they had been bludgeoned and strangled. The bodies would eventually be identified as belonging to Christopher Msando and Carol Ngumbu, a trainee at the Kenya Medical Training College. Msando’s car had been found in a Nairobi suburb on the Saturday evening, and his wife, Eva Buyu, had already reported him missing.
The nature of Msando’s killing was indicative of a well-planned and executed assassination. Msando had last been seen in a nightclub in the Nairobi Central Business District, in the company of a young woman. He left the club shortly after midnight, and it is unclear when and how he was intercepted and murdered. Months before his assassination, Msando had reported receiving various threats from unknown people and recorded statements with the police. As at the time his corpse was discovered, the identities of the people that had been sending him threats remained unknown.
Investigation into the murder of Christopher Masando and Carol Ngumbu remains ongoing, but barring a few false starts by the police, no suspects have been arraigned. National Super Alliance leader, Raila Odinga, has since alleged that the Jubilee Party and the International Electoral and Boundaries Commission were involved in Msando’s murder, but little has emerged in support of this claim.
What is clear is that the nature of Masando’s murder was eerily similar to those of other prominent figures before him; and the prevailing sentiment amongst Kenyans is that the conclusion will be the same—an “investigation” that will fail to yield any results.
Incidences of police brutality in Kenya had been an issue long before the 2017 elections. The Kenyan Police Service has frequently been criticized for its corruption and ineptitude, with the International Police Science Association ranking the nation 125th out of 127 countries in its International Corruption Index. Regionally, the Police Service is also one of the worst performing, with the East Africa Bribery Index ranking the service as the most corrupt government institution in the country. More disconcerting is the police service’s reputation for being trigger-happy.
Between 2013 and 2015, police in Kenya shot and killed an estimated 803 people in various circumstances. A majority of these killings took place in informal settlements within urban areas. Moreover, they occurred despite general outcry on several occasions, and repeated pleas from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the Independent Policing and Oversight Authority and Amnesty International.
Electoral cycles also seem to bring out the worst in Kenya’s police force. Police were accused of using excessive force to quell demonstrations following the disputed 2007 elections (during these demonstrations, an estimated 1500 people died in tribal clashes and confrontations with police). In 2013, police were again accused of using excessive force in opposition strongholds after the announcement of election results, and would feature negatively in local and international media during a series of political protests in 2016.
After the announcement of the results of the repeat election, Human Rights Watch and the KNCHR released reports documenting excessive use of force by police and government security agents during the 2017 elections. The reports implicated the police in the deaths of at least 67 people, with as many as 126 injured. The reports also implicated the police in sexual assault and gender based violence, and noted that physical injuries were meted out on the elderly, youth and children.
One of the sadder tales of police brutality during the elections involved two killings: the first was of Samantha Pendo, a six-month-old baby who died in hospital after sustaining head injuries from police batons during a house raid; and the second, seven-year-old Geoffrey Mutinda, who passed away after sustaining wounds from being shot in the head while playing on the balcony of his parents’ house.
The police denied culpability for the killings. The Inspector General of Police, Joseph Boinett, stated that the actions of the police were lawful and proportionate. He noted, “no sane officer would kill a child”, while Nairobi Police Commander, Japheth Koome, decried Mutinda’s killing as being “the work of thugs”, despite eyewitness claims that a policeman had committed the shooting.
As is the unfortunate norm, the police promised to conduct investigations into the killings and into allegations of police brutality. At present, no person has been charged.
The Return of Secessionist Sentiment
Kenya like most other African countries is an artificial creation. Colonial conquest resulted in a partitioning of the continent that prompted both the lumping together and disintegration of tribes, ethnicities and nations which, in several cases, meant that homogenous groups were separated and previously distinct ethnic groupings grouped together under new “national” identities.
In Kenya, the Luo, Kikuyu, Luhya, Maasai and Kamba lived as distinct tribes and nations prior to British colonialism. The colonial project and, subsequently, the push for African autonomy and independence inadvertently brought leaders from the various tribes together for a common purpose. It did not, however, result in the dissolution of tribal identities, which were temporarily submerged in favour of African nationalism. Independence would effectively rekindle ethnic sentiment as more control of government meant greater access to state resources. In turn, the tribe that had its leaders in power would enjoy greater access to these resources than those that did not.
Exclusion from power, a consequence of numerical deficiencies which also limited possibilities of success in democratically contested elections, awakened secessionist sentiments in different parts of the country. There were various attempts by the North East and Coast to secede from Kenya in the early days of independence, but the government was successful in culling them. Strong latent sentiments, however, remained and the continued exclusion of various tribes from positions of power would result in surges of secessionist ideology at various points in time.
More modern times have seen fluctuations in secessionist ideology, which has appeared to rise and fall in tandem with electoral cycles. In 2009, the Kenyan government targeted and eliminated the Mombasa Republican Council, a secessionist group in the Kenya Coast, and did so again when, after the 2013 general elections, threats of secessionism in Western Kenya emerged.
2017, nevertheless, marked the first time that a national political party openly flirted with the secessionist idea. In August, NASA Chief Strategist, David Ndii, shared a link to a “Petition for Self-Determination” on his social media pages. The petition illustrated a map showing Kenya as divided into two states: the Central Republic of Kenya, which comprised the North Eastern, Central and selected parts of the Rift Valley Provinces; and the People’s Republic of Kenya, which included the Coastal, Eastern, Western and selected parts of the Rift Valley Provinces. It called on the various tribes located in the “People’s Republic” to secede from Kenya, citing historical injustices and discrimination that were perpetuated through rigged elections.
Ndii would also write a featured article in a leading local newspaper. In the article, he would call for further conversation of secessionism, asserting that the economic and political environment was not inclusive of all Kenyan tribes and ethnicities.
The push for the People’s Republic would also reach the National Assembly. In November, NASA politician, Peter Kaluma, tabled a bill before parliament that called for the secession of 40 of Kenya’s 47 counties to form the People’s Republic of Kenya, alleging that the government had “rigged elections and conducted systemic suppression of certain groups and communities”.
At Kenya’s Coast Province, Mombasa and Kilifi governors, Hassan Joho and Amason Kingi, both affiliated with the National Super Alliance, resolved to initiate a push for coastal secession in protest against the election of Uhuru Kenyatta. The governors pledged to begin consultative processes in their regions, claiming, “the journey to realize secession for coastal peoples has just began”. In addition to Raila Odinga’s declaration of himself as the “People’s President”, as well as his plans to swear himself in officially, these are worrying signs for the country. The nation’s Attorney General, Githu Muigai, has warned that such a move would be considered treasonous, an act punishable by death in Kenyan Law, but NASA has remained adamant. Should NASA forge ahead with its plans to swear in Raila, the creation of two Kenyas could become a very real possibility.
What emerges from the 2017 Kenya elections, therefore, is a cocktail of hope and despair. On the one hand, for the Kenyan youth, the phasing out of the political old guard presents new leadership opportunities. Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s first round annulment is a positive sign for the strength and independence of Kenya’s governmental institutions. The annulment may lay a marker for the youth to follow the same course as future inheritors of these institutions.
On the other hand, however, the country remains on the edge. The opposition’s refusal to accept the results of the second election and its swearing in of its candidate, Ralia Odinga, strongly illuminates the deep political divisions in the country. Unfortunately, despite being the largest socio-political demographic in Kenya, the youth remain divided and unable to harness their collective power to spur political change and a sustainable path towards economic development.
Therefore, questions for the future unity and stability of Kenya abound. It remains to be seen whether, as the largest and most impactful social group, the future of Kenya, its youth, will be on the negotiating table and given due consideration, or on the menu of national politics⎈