August 8th Elections

Lines to vote across Kenya can be miles long and the wait several hours

Lines to vote across Kenya can be miles long and the wait several hours

We often take for granted the institutions that exist that give people trust in our voting systems in the United States. Whether or not we like the results, we believe the results to be an accurate representation of those who voted. This is not the case in Kenya.

I have closely been watching the build up to the hotly contested August 8th elections. During our most recent trip to Kenya, the BFF team spoke with friends, taxi drivers, shop owners and our artisans about the elections and what they thought would happen. On the coast, people felt optimistic that tensions would not boil over. In Nairobi, reports were less confident, both in the voting process and in the likelihood of peace. While the results of the election are important, the process of getting those results and people's faith in those results are just as significant and called into question.

Further increasing tensions for yesterday's election was the abduction, torture and murder of Chris Msando within 2 weeks of Election Day. Mr. Msando was acting Director for the Kenyan Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and was in charge of the computerized voting systems, further delegitimizing an already precarious event. The investigation into his death is still ongoing.

Although it will take some time for the results to be finalized, it looks like the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta has readily beaten opposition leader, Raila Odinga. We're all waiting with bated breath as Kenyatta's maintaining of power will unfold. Odinga is claiming he has evidence the election results are fraudulent. Smaller scale riots have broken out, but nothing like that of 2007 thus far.

The 2007 election led to a humanitarian, political and economic crisis of epic proportions. As the opposition refused to accept the results of the tense election, riots, gangs and violence left upwards of 1,100 people dead and 650,000 displaced from their homes. Few perpetrators have been held accountable for their actions, leaving many Kenyans with a sense of injustice. After being accused of orchestrating the violence, both current President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto faced charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court, but the court dropped the charges and cited unprecedented witness interference and bribery. 

Fortunately the 2013 election, although tense, did not mirror the instability and violence that we saw in 2007. The international community was happily surprised by the aftermath, although the opposition again questioned the authenticity of the results and 400 people were killed during instances of unrest.

Many millions in Kenya (as in many places around the world) continue to feel marginalized, like the government does not support their interests. Tribal ties have been politicized as the Kikuyu ethnic group has maintained general power since independence in 1963. The opposition feels as though the political system is unfair and favors the Kikuyu at the expense of the 30+ other ethnic groups in Kenya.

An outbreak of violence following the finalized election results would be disappointing but not surprising. Unfortunately, a lack of stability in the country affects the well being of people like our artisans, who have fled to more rural villages fearing election violence. We're anxiously awaiting their return when the situation is safe.

The results of this election as well as the response will have huge impact on future Kenyan elections as well as the legitimacy of its democratic ideals within the international community. For up to date information on the 2017 election, I'd recommend taking a look at the Human Rights Watch page.