Kenya's uncertain elections

01 Nov 2017 Chris Suckling

President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected on 30 October with 98% of the national vote, after opposition leader Raila Odinga conducted an unofficial boycott of the re-run election. The re-run was held after the Supreme Court on 1 September nullified Kenyatta's initial re-election, on grounds of procedural shortcomings.

  • Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who unofficially boycotted the re-run election, is unlikely to seek to overturn the final result. Voting was not completed in a small minority of constituencies. However, this is unlikely to invite a successful legal annulment. The Election Law states that any "breach of the peace", as resulted from opposition protests, forecloses a re-run when the prospective votes gained in these constituencies do not affect the existing majority of the leading candidate. Separate to this, a petition lodged in the Supreme Court prior to the election remains outstanding. This was after the court failed on 25 October to achieve a quorum. In any case, given that the election commission implemented virtually all of the Supreme Court's key recommendations, and did so within a constitutionally overriding 60 day time limit, any subsequent legal challenges are unlikely to result in an annulment. The opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition's leadership does not consider the election as credible. Consequently, on 31 October, NASA leader Odinga vowed to create a "people's assembly" that intends to push for reforms to the election process. Very few concessions will be offered by the government, particularly as Kenyatta has already refused to negotiate.
  • With elections now completed, opposition protests are likely to remain localised to opposition strongholds around Lake Nyanza and smalls pockets within Nairobi's informal settlements of Kibera, Kawangware, and Mathare. Inter-ethnic violence comparable to the aftermath of the 2007-08 election is highly unlikely. No more than 500-1,000 protesters in each case are likely to fight with security forces and create makeshift roadblocks, disrupting ground transport. Hot spots include the capitals of Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Trans-Nzoia, and Vihiga counties. Riot police are already deployed at these locations and will disperse protesters using batons and tear gas, before firing live rounds into the air
  • Odinga's newly declared "people's assembly" is unlikely to initiate an effective parliamentary boycott, with the opposition NASA coalition now likely to begin collapsing, allowing rival leaders and regional alliances to emerge. Odinga is due to retire as leader of the ethnic-Luo dominated Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), which represents the numerically superior NASA coalition member. Only the most loyal ODM members in the Lake Nyanza region view the presidential election re-run in zero-sum terms. This is because other coalition supporters had most to gain from the county elections that were finalised in August, and were originally brought about by devolution in 2010. The results of these largely mirrored pre-existing voting blocs organised around ethnicity and region. The original presidential election in August occurred simultaneously with the county elections, which largely explains the lower voter turnout observed during the presidential election re-run. Furthermore, in the National Assembly, member parties of NASA control 107 out of 350 seats (31%) - at least half of which are held by ODM legislators - whereas the ruling Jubilee party controls 49% of the legislature. Any opposition calls to boycott the legislature are therefore only likely to involve a minority of ODM lawmakers, reducing the likelihood of policy paralysis. This facilitates removal of a cap on interest rates, gradually improving private-sector credit growth. Mining law amendments will probably also be passed in early 2018.

Indicators of changing risk environment

  • During a hearing scheduled for 10 November, the Supreme Court rules out a high-profile petition - lodged by activist Okiya Omtatah - that challenges the electoral process, indicating any subsequent petitions lodged by the opposition are unlikely to result in annulment of the final result.
  • Local leaders in Kitui, Machakos, and Makueni counties - the "Ukambani" region - publicly support Odinga's "people's assembly", resulting in greater support among lawmakers for a legislative boycott, albeit not enough to challenge the majority enjoyed by the ruling Jubilee party and its allies.
  • Mombasa's senator and county governor, who are both ODM members, refrain from supporting Odinga's new opposition movement, indicating a leadership contest will commence that weakens any attempt to boycott parliament.

Chris Suckling is a Senior Analyst, Country Risk - Sub-Saharan Africa at IHS Markit
Posted 1 November 2017


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