Populations at Risk
Previously Studied Situations
There is a serious concern regarding the potential recurrence of widespread violence in Kenya as a result of the October 2017 re-run of the presidential election.
On 26 October Kenya is scheduled to hold repeat elections in the presidential race between the Jubilee party's candidate, the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his main opponent, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA). Odinga withdrew from the run-off on 10 October claiming the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had failed to carry out substantial reforms, including replacing some officials. Odinga has publicly called for his supporters to stay home and boycott the election.
Members of the IEBC, including its current head, have themselves indicated that it would be difficult to guarantee free and fair elections on 26 October in light of time constraints and political intimidation. IEBC staff have reportedly been assaulted and threatened by some NASA supporters.
Opposition supporters have engaged in daily protests and have threatened to block polling stations. Police have reportedly used live rounds and tear gas to disperse some crowds. At least 65 people have been killed in political violence since August.
Following general elections held on 8 August 2017, the IEBC formally declared Kenyatta had won the Presidency. Despite the IEBC declaring that there were no significant irregularities in the voting, on 9 August Odinga publicly claimed that the results had been hacked, calling for a general strike to protest the results. Many opposition supporters responded by protesting and barricading major roads in several cities, resulting in clashes with police and Kenyatta supporters. On 1 September the Supreme Court annulled the vote and called for a repeat election within 60 days, citing "irregularities" and "illegalities" in the IEBC's handling of the election results.
Prior to the August election, the IEBC had identified 20 counties as potential hotspots for protests and riots, ethnic clashes, terrorist attacks, and land and resource based conflicts. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission also noted that, "insensitive and sensational reporting" by some radio stations and social media was exacerbating tensions. Some politicians from major parties were accused of deliberately heightening ethnic rivalries ahead of the election.
Post-election violence in 2007-2008 left 1,133 Kenyans dead and over 663,000 displaced, but led to state wide structural reforms to avoid a recurrence of violence during future elections. While the 2013 elections were generally peaceful, the government has relied upon a Kikuyu-Kalenjin political alliance and has been unable to overcome the root causes of some inter-ethnic disputes. The government has also fundamentally failed to hold perpetrators of past mass atrocity crimes accountable.
Despite Odinga calling for his supporters to stay home on Thursday, there remains a risk of further clashes between security forces and opposition supporters seeking to block the 26 October vote. There is also a risk that tensions between Odinga supporters and those of President Uhuru Kenyatta may result in violence. The continued use of tear gas and live rounds by security forces against protestors is especially concerning.
Despite the government deploying additional police to potential trouble spots, security forces sometimes still lack the capacity to actively deter and disrupt threats or mediate inter-communal tensions.
The government needs to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Kenyans, regardless of political affiliation.
On 23 January 2012 the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed charges of crimes against humanity against President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, who allegedly bore the greatest responsibility for instigating ethnic violence in the aftermath of the 2007 election. However, on 5 December 2014 the ICC dropped these charges after the Kenyan government refused to cooperate, and due to allegations of witness intimidation.
The AU and EU sent election observation missions to Kenya ahead of the August 2017 election. While international observers have returned to Kenya for the October repeat election, their presence has been significantly reduced due to instability concerns.
On 23 October 20 Ambassadors and High Commissioners to Kenya released a joint statement condemning threats against the IEBC and noting, "inflammatory rhetoric, attacks on institutions, and growing insecurity all make holding a credible and fair poll more difficult."
The government should closely monitor and quickly confront any incitement to political violence or potential inter-ethnic conflict. The government should encourage security forces to exercise maximum restraint regarding the use of deadly force while responding to peaceful protests.
Disputed election results should be formally contested through appropriate legal channels in Kenya's courts.
The AU and UN need to continue to assist the Kenyan government in both proximate and long-term efforts aimed at strengthening the rule of law, building inter-communal dialogue, and ending the mobilization and manipulation of ethnic identity for political purposes.
Last Updated: 25 October 2017