The coming general election in Kenya

I am currently in Nairobi for my fourth visit to my son and his family since he moved here two years ago for his work. What is different about this visit is that it falls just a month before a general election in Kenya and election propaganda is much in evidence. Now the political and economic performance of Kenya since independence from Britain in 1963 has been turbulent and disappointing, as explained by Daniel Branch in his 2011 book “Kenya: Between Hope And Despair, 1963-2011” [my review here].

The forthcoming general election is scheduled for 8 August 2017 and, especially given the violence after the election of 2007 which resulted in some 1,100 deaths, some citizens who can are choosing to be out of the country for the period around the balloting. The elections are for the posts of President and Deputy President, members of the National Assembly and the Senate, and county governors and ward representatives in devolved administrations.

In Europe and America, voting on a class basis has tended more recently to be replaced by voting on the basis of identity but, in Kenya, voting has always been on tribal lines. There are 23 tribes in Kenya with the largest being Kikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), and Kalenjin (12%).

The election is dominated by two coalitions of parties: one called Jubilee and the other titled the National Super Alliance or NASA. Jubilee is led by the current President Uhuru Kenyatta (who is Kikuyu) and the current Vice-President William Ruto (who is Kalenjin). NASA is headed by Presidential candidate Raila Odinga (who is Luo) and Vice-Presidential candidate Kalonzo Musyoka (who is Ukambani). Two other presidential candidates represent other coalitions and then there are three independent candidates.

Opinion polls mean even less in Kenya than they do in Britain or the United States but, genuinely or nefariously, it would be surprising if the Jubilee coalition did not retain power. Some 19.6 million Kenyans have a legal right to vote, but many young voters are equally disillusioned by the two leading teams and turnout by tribe will probably be the deciding factor.

But, writing recently in the Kenyan newspaper “The Star” about the forthcoming election in his country, Mwangi Githahu reminded readers of the victories of Trump in the US and Macron in France plus the unexpected performance of Sanders in the States and Corbyn in the UK and opined that “it is time we realised that absolutely anything is possible and the era of those we once thought were destined to rule may be over”.


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