Monday, March 27, 2017

Thoughts on upcoming Kenyan Presidential elections

Thanks to my wonderful graduate assistant Shem Ngwira for helping me put together this piece. 

            As we await the August 8 elections in Kenya, one cannot rule out the possibility of violent elections as seen in the 2007 Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga faceoff. The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Kenyatta with crimes against humanity, which were later dropped. In 2013, Kenya witnessed a closely contested yet peaceful election. Check out my recent article in Journal of Modern African Studies on hate speech in the Kenyan Election in 2013.  Hotly contested issues in the run up to this election include urban youth poverty, domestic terrorist attacks, corruption, and strengthening the rule of law just to mention a few. 
Perennial presidential candidate Raila Odinga alleges that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) favors Kenyatta’s political party-- Jubilee -- and is not trustworthy. These suspicions led to violent clashes between Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) and the police in May 2016.  However, the IEBC Chair Issack Hassan mentioned to a parliamentary briefing that the electoral officials were willing to quit prior to elections. This was a result of opposition supporter’s exercising their right to protest hence creating pressure for the IEBC officials to make a public announcement on their electoral stance.

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Chairman Wafula Chebukati in Naivasha on March 9, 2017. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 
 The Jubilee Alliance has been accused of an attempt to buy politicians from the north of Kenya in a campaign to weaken the opposition’s stronghold. The opposition politicians argue that only ‘weak’ northern Members of Parliament will fall prey to the governing party’s beckoning to switch allegiance with the overall aim of reducing votes for Odinga. These suspicions come at a time when the Jubilee party intends to amass political support from small political parties by sponsoring them to pledge allegiance to Kenyatta instead of the opposition political parties.
The 2017 elections have already been marred by a recent server hacking attempt of the IEBC servers. Chairman Wafula Chebukati of IEBC addressed informed the National Assembly’s Legal Affairs Committee but identities of the suspected hackers were left anonymous and assured the public that the servers were protected and not easily penetrated. This may have created further distrust of the Kenyatta administration and simultaneously elevated Odinga’s platform as a social change agent to reform such systemic challenges.

This is only but a snapshot of the events occurring in Kenya and how these tie into the upcoming elections. The tension between Odinga and Kenyatta stemming back from the gruesome events of 2007 laid a foundation of mistrust and strategic sabotage campaigns from both camps. 
We hope to see successful free and fair elections such as seen in 2013, which were approved as such by Carter Center and European Union.  However, the elections and public dissatisfaction in poor performance of the Kenyatta administration in addressing security issues as well as use of police to conduct extra judicial killings of dissenting individuals may have unintentionally set up Odinga for better poll numbers.