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Same-Day Analysis

Election 2007: Post-Election Violence Pushes Kenya to the Brink

Published: 02 January 2008
Kenya is in the midst of its worst political crisis in decades following President Mwai Kibaki's highly questionable re-election in the country's latest general election, held last week.

Global Insight Perspective



The election, which was held on 27 December 2007, was rightly hailed as the most open and closely contested in Kenya's history, with more than 70% of the 14.3 million registered voters turning out to cast their votes.


The close nature of the presidential poll, which made the outcome uncertain right up until the result was announced by the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), was hailed as proof of Kenya's rapidly maturing democracy.


What transpired in the post-election phase that followed—including the handling of the vote counting process, the declaration of Kibaki as the winner, and the violence that followed that has predictably unleashed the ethnic rivalries that continue to bubble under the surface—has, however, left a bitter taste in the mouth and appears to have set Kenya back years if not decades in its march towards democracy.

Kenya held its 10th general election—only the fourth since the advent of the multiparty election era—on 27 December 2007, with voters choosing their favourites in presidential, legislative, and local council polls. The election was rightly hailed as the most open and closely contested in Kenya's history, with more than 70% of the 14.3 million registered voters turning out to cast their votes in a largely trouble-free process that was only marked by some organisational and logistical difficulties (see Kenya: 28 December 2007: Election 2007: Counting Under Way in Landmark Kenyan Elections, Outcome Too Close to Call).

Unlikely Winner

The first sign of the problems that were to discredit the entire process came on Friday (28 December 2007)—the day after polling day—when the ECK announced a delay in vote counting. Supporters of opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate Raila Odinga, who had taken the winning lead in most exit polls and in the early vote count, claimed that the delay was a ruse to manipulate the outcome in Kibaki's favour. However, it still came as a major surprise when ECK Chairman Samuel Kivuitu eventually announced the outcome of the presidential ballot on Sunday (30 December 2007), declaring Kibaki as the unlikely winner (see Kenya: 31 December 2007: Kenyan President is Accused of Rigging Election; Violence Leads to Many Deaths Throughout Country). According to the official result, Kibaki won the ballot with 4,584,721 votes compared with the 4,352,993 who voted for Odinga. Former foreign minister Kalonzo Musyoka, who contested the poll on the ODM-Kenya ticket, led the remaining seven candidates by polling 879,903 votes to finish a distant third behind Kibaki. Kivuitu has since questioned the validity of Kibaki's victory by claiming that he was pressured into announcing the results prematurely.

Presidential Election Result (27 December 2007)



Number of Votes

Mwai Kibaki

Party for National Unity (PNU)


Raila Odinga



Kalonzo Musyoka



Joseph Karani

Kenya Patriotic Trust (KPTP)


Pius Muiru

Kenya Peoples' Party (KPP)


Nazlin Omar

Workers Congress Party (WCPK)


Kenneth Matiba

Saba Saba Asili (SSA)


David Ng'ethe

Chama Cha Umma (CCA)


Jeremiah Kukubo

Republican Party of Kenya (RPK)


Source: ECK

Kibaki's electoral vehicle—the Party for National Unity (PNU)—was less fortunate in the parallel legislative election, with a string of ministers—led by Vice-President Moody Awori—losing seats: in what is seen as a damning rejection of Kibaki's administration and the president's first term in office, only 9 of the 35 ministers from the outgoing cabinet were able retain their parliamentary seats, with such senior figures such as Njenga Karume, Mukhisa Kituyi, Simeon Nyachae, and Musikari Kombo all suffering a humiliating rejection. Others, such as former president Daniel arap Moi's three sons—Gideon Moi (Baringo Central), Jonathan Toroitich Moi (Eldama Ravine), and Raymond Kipruto Moi (Rongai)—and Nicholas Biwott, a key confidante of the former president, have been rejected by voters according to provisional results. The ODM, which went into the polls as the favourite to emerge with the biggest number of parliamentary seats, did so despite the setback it suffered in the presidential ballot. The party, which fielded the highest number of candidates (190) in the race for the 210 elected parliamentary seats, is believed to have won around 100 seats, with the PNU and its affiliates winning fewer than 50 seats so far.

International Observers Question Legitimacy of Polls

Odinga, who was convinced of his own victory in the polls, immediately rejected the official outcome, claiming that the results were rigged to ensure Kibaki's return to power. The opposition leader and his supporters have cited numerous incidents of irregularities and outright fraud, including constituencies that have reported turnouts of 115% and discrepancies between the margin of victory reported for the same constituencies at the local level and by the ECK in Nairobi. This has led to election observers, both local and international, concluding that the election has been less than credible. The European Union (EU), Kenya's leading development partner, has led the criticism over the handling of the polls, concluding—in an unusually frank assessment—that the disputed presidential polls fell short of international standards and the outcome should be independently audited. In a statement issued yesterday, the head of the EU Election Observer Mission, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, said: "General elections in the Republic of Kenya have fallen short of key international and regional standards for democratic elections….They were marred by a lack of transparency in the processing and tallying of presidential results, which raises concerns about the accuracy of the final results….We believe it is vital that an impartial investigation into the accuracy of the presidential results is conducted and the results from all polling stations are published to enable an independent audit to be carried out." The United States, a major ally and another of Kenya's leading donors, has also questioned the outcome of the ballot by expressing "serious concerns" after having initially congratulated Kibaki on his re-election following the announcement of the result, underlining the international unease over Kibaki's highly questionable victory.

More than 300 people have been killed in the post-election clashes witnessed throughout Kenya in the past six days, with the clashes, like the voting in the just-concluded election, taking an ethnic dimension, pitching Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group against Odinga's Luo kin, with the latter also being the main focus of the security crackdown unleashed by the paramilitary police force. The violence, which has begun to subside in the past 24 hours, has been particularly fierce in the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, in the Western Province, and pockets of Nairobi (the Kenyan capital), including the Kibera slum, where Odinga enjoys a strong following among the mainly Luo and some of the most disadvantaged Kenyans who were hoping for a political change. In the worst single incident, more than 30 people, many of them children, were burnt alive when a mob set fire to a church in Eldoret in western Kenya yesterday. The leading international human rights organisation, Amnesty International, has since called on the Kenyan authorities to establish an independent and impartial inquiry to investigate the post-election killings, most of which appear to have been committed by security forces given the green light by the government to shoot at the opposition protestors.

President Kibaki, who was sworn in as head of state on Sunday night in a hastily convened ceremony that was held at the State House (the president's official residence) barely hours after the ECK confirmed him as the winner, has been conspicuous by his lack of leadership and his failure to address and reassure a worried public currently going through what is undoubtedly the country's biggest political crisis since the failed coup d'état attempt against former president Daniel arap Moi back in 1982. Although this is entirely in fitting with Kibaki's "hands-off" crisis management style, the president has since found his voice to call for an inclusive dialogue with the opposition parties to bring an end to the current crisis. "Leaders of political parties should meet immediately and publicly call for calm," Kibaki said in a statement following a meeting with former Sierra Leonean president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, who is in charge of the Commonwealth election observer mission. The call, made as a result of growing international pressure to find a speedy political settlement, is, however, unlikely to find favour among the opposition, particularly Odinga's ODM, which has refused to entertain any such idea unless Kibaki is prepared to admit that he has lost the polls. Odinga, who had originally planned to declare himself as the "people's president", has now called for a million-man march tomorrow at Nairobi's Uhuru Park to protest what some are calling the "civilian coup", although the planned rally may yet fall foul of the temporary public order measure that is currently in effect throughout Kenya, with police threatening to arrest anyone who tries to defy the restriction. As the government continues to grapple with the crisis, the new post-election crackdown also includes a ban on live media broadcasts. Defending what has been condemned as a draconian move, government spokesman Alfred Mutua claimed the decision was carried out to prevent those using the media from inflaming the current crisis by "calling for violence and to incite members of the public to engage in violence".

Outlook and Implications

Following what should have been a highly competitive but nevertheless routine general election, Kenya now finds itself at a critical juncture, with the country in danger of descending into an ethnic civil war, with terms such as "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide" being used freely. Kenya has long been seen as a country at peace with itself, in a region wracked by civil war and political unrest. Prior to the latest polls, Kenya was ranked among the freest in the region in the political sense, which includes a highly vibrant and critical independent media, following the dramatic progress that followed following the advent of multiparty political system in the early 1990s. The events that followed the just-concluded election may, however, see all recent progress unravelling, as Kibaki and his discredited government attempt to hang on to power irrespective of the cost and damages to the country.

Beside the political and human damage the post-election crisis has caused, the current calamity is also likely to have a negative impact on East Africa's biggest economy, at least in the short term, especially on the key tourism sector. A number of Western governments have already advised their nationals to avoid non-essential travel to Kenya, forcing the cancellation of thousands of booked holiday flights to the country. If the government fails to handle the current crisis adequately and bring a speedy end to it, the impact will soon be felt in other sectors and it could have a bearing on the country's economic projections both in the short and medium terms. Global Insight will continue to monitor the unfolding events with keen interest, and will consider revising our political, economic, operational, security, and sovereign risk ratings in the coming days if the situation fails to improve.

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