On 8 August 2017, Kenya held its national election amid fears of violence and accusations of voter intimidation. The next day it became clear that the results would not be accepted peacefully as the officially released figures showed the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, leading in the vote tally. In response, the opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance (NASA), announced that the results were being manipulated and began releasing what it claimed to be the legitimate figures, sourced from within the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). On 11 August 2017, the IEBC announced that Kenyatta had won the presidential election with 54.27% of the vote compared to NASA’s leader, Raila Odinga’s 44.74%. This margin of victory was sufficient to avoid a runoff election.
However, Odinga and NASA rejected the result claiming that Kenyatta’s Jubilee coalition had influenced the IEBC and fraudulently rigged the election. Protests erupted in several areas of the country, with the worst in the city of Kisumu in western Kenya. In response, Kenya’s security forces clamped down hard and over the next five days 24 people were reported killed and over 100 others injured in clashes.
However, Odinga’s calls for a nationwide protest strike on 15 August went largely unheeded, except by the most ardent of NASA supporters, and most Kenyans went to work. This was a significant setback for Odinga showing his limited ability to mobilise a critical mass, while possibly indicating Kenyan fatigue with political violence.
Odinga and NASA still need to announce their next moves. Having rejected the results and called for demonstrations it will be difficult for them to back down without losing significant political capital. Nonetheless, the tepid response to the 15 August strike call indicates that his bargaining position is not as strong some initially thought. Meanwhile, violent clashes between opposition supporters and police continue in Kisumu and the outlying informal settlements in Nairobi. The most likely option available to Odinga is to challenge the result before the Supreme Court and attempt to secure an interdict preventing Kenyatta’s inauguration. While the court is unlikely to find in Odinga’s favour this will buy NASA time to better gauge its support and mobilise. It will also allow Odinga to claim to have tried to resolve the dispute in a peaceful fashion.
It should be noted that international observers, including the European Union (EU), have not raised concerns over fraud or irregularities in the vote counting process itself, but concerns were raised ahead of the election over the misuse of government resources and media for the benefit of Jubilee.
A creeping concern is the conduct of Kenya’s security forces since the results were released with some observers alarmed about increased authoritarianism. Police have been accused of heavy-handed tactics against peaceful protesters and unnecessary force when dispersing demonstrations, both violent and not. In addition, on 14 August, the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC) ,which has been critical of the government and security forces in recent months, was suddenly de-registered by the country’s Non-Governmental Organisations Coordination Board on accusations of violating financial regulations. On 15 August the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) which works to improve democracy in East Africa, was also served notice of its impending de-registration and on 16 August the organisation’s Nairobi headquarters was raided by Kenyan police. These actions have fuelled unease about the Kenyatta administration’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies.
Political tensions are expected to continue for several weeks at least with incidents of violence likely in Kisumu and Nairobi. The failure of NASA’s 15 August strike is no guarantee that the possibility of violence is decreasing and violent protests could still escalate and spread in response to heavy-handed police tactics and the anti-NGO raids. In addition, if NASA takes the case to the Supreme Court, it could create a further rallying point for opposition protesters. There could also be violent demonstrations ahead of and on 29 August 2017 – the planned date for the confirmation of results and the inauguration of Kenyatta for his second term.