from Africa in Transition

Kenya Elections

April 03, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

Elections and Voting


International Law

While violence broke out sporadically, post-election Kenya is far from the domestic Armageddon that followed the 2007 elections. Uhuru Kenyatta, under indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in the aftermath of those elections, will be sworn-in as president this month following the 2013 elections judged credible by the Supreme Court. His chief rival, Raila Odinga, has accepted the Court’s ruling, and has conceded.

Why has 2013 been so difference from 2007?

Perhaps most important has been the thorough-going political reforms enshrined in a new, post 2007, constitution that significantly decentralized government authority. It replaced a unitary state with something approaching federalism. This significantly modified Kenya’s hitherto winner-take-all political culture. It also established multiple venues for political competition. For example, in 2013, Kenyatta won the presidency, but Odinga’s party won the county (state) government of Nairobi.

Second, Kenyans have not forgotten the horrors of post-election 2007. There was a remarkable consensus among Kenyans that it should never again be repeated. This imposed a new degree restraint on rhetoric and behavior that is difficult to quantify, but was nevertheless real.

Third, both Kenyatta and Odinga have from the beginning said they would accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on contested election results, and urged their followers to do the same.

Sporadic violence after the Supreme Court ruling on March 30 indicates that Kenya is not altogether out of the woods. Nevertheless, the longer Kenya avoids a conflagration, the less likely one becomes. Though Kenyatta’s ICC indictment is an overhanging cloud, these are hopeful time for Kenya.