Elections Kenya 2007- A Deeper Reflection.

By Edwin Nyanducha


Almost all emails I have been receiving from all over the world are asking the one simple question: what is going on in Kenya ? From the disappointment of those who have always viewed Kenya as a model democracy to predictions by many prestigious circles who had indicated that the elections were not going to have any impact on business and society in our country,
the naysayers seem to be having a field day. I will attempt to give what I consider a meaningful picture of the issues and the likely turn that things are going to take.

First Things First

There is a saying that all politics are local. In places like the US , the things that affect the Iowans are not the same ones that afflict the Texans. Likewise, in Kenya , all politics are local and the things the people in the coastal habour care about are not the same things people at the farmlands of Rift Valley value the most. Further complicating the issue is that region and tribe are synonymous, giving an impression that Kenyan politics is only driven by tribalism. The truth is more complicated than that.

The CIA Factbox below divides Kenya into 6 main ethnic groups accounting for 84% of the country’s population with none having a clear majority:
Kikuyu 22%,Luhya 14%,Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11% ,Kisii 6% ,Meru 6% ,Other African 15%, Non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%.

This means that Kenya was, is and will always be a land designed for coalition politics.

Complicating the fact further is the long overdue generational change in the politicians holding office. Mwai Kibaki is past 70 years of age. Even Raila Odinga who carries himself as a youthful politician is 62 years of age. The CIA factbox again explains Kenya ‘s age pyramid which reads below:


· 0-14 years: 42.1%

· 15-64 years: 55.2%

· 65 years and over: 2.6%

The median age is 18.6 years.

Setting the Stage

Official statistics indicate that 52% of Kenya ‘s population currently lives below the poverty line. Agriculture accounts for 70% of the country’s labour force on a pitiful 14% total arable land. Rigid land acquisition processes notwithstanding, a rapidly growing youth base in rural areas with biting poverty pushing many into urban areas, presents a clear and present danger as pressure on inadequate social services alone could trigger discontent.

After years of negative growth in real GDP, the economy has finally started improving amidst cautious optimism being urged by critics who argue that the economy was simply experiencing recovery, not growth. In a sense, it can be said that the ill-fated election was about maintaining the status quo versus ushering in change. A far respite though is that after almost four decades of brutal politics under Jomo Kenyatta and Arap Moi, the quest for humane politics is becoming evident.

The Key Players

Mwai Kibaki is in a sense the quintessential English gentleman. Schooling in Makerere, East Africa ‘s finest university after independence, Kibaki obtained a First Class Honours in Economics and then proceeded to London School of Economics for a masters in Economics. By the early 60’s, Kibaki immersed himself in Kenyan politics starting out as Minister for Trade and Industry and moving on to be the Minister for Finance for very many years. Being a sort of economist myself, I must say that Kibaki has put in place quite a number of overdue building blocks in the country’s economy that will keep serving the country well. For many years, Kibaki was ever present at the Muthaiga Country Club, which from the days of independence has housed the who is who in Kenya’s establishment and has continued to be frequented by the diplomatic corps and the vestiges of Kenya’s colonists, fondly known as Kenyan cowboys who arguably still control a very big chunk of economic activity in the country. Most people remark that Kibaki is such a gentleman that even in politics, he is often not willing to dirty his hands with a crude brand of politics.

In a sense, Raila Odinga can be defined as ‘The Renegade’. Obtaining his education in engineering and political revolutions from Russia at the height of the cold war, Raila has always been an agitator for change which has landed him long stints in jail. A charmer of the masses and one who knows how to identify with the common mans plight, he is a force to reckon with on Kenya ‘s political scene. From the onset of multi party democracy, Raila has in a sense been a political entrepreneur who would register a party, get on board the bulk of the Luo vote but not manage any significant impact in the rest of the country. He seems to have learnt from his mistakes and in 2007 he managed to have convinced over a good portion of voters from other parts of the country, including the Muslim vote.

Though many do not see it that way, William Ruto is another tour de force on the political scene. Rising to prominence in 1992, Ruto assisted former president Moi to put in place a powerful electioneering machine that saw Moi reelected despite every one assuming that he was going to be automatically deposed. In actual effect, Ruto is a true king maker. From having cobbled together ODM into a country wide party, aligning members of parliament’s ambitions with those of ODM and then containing the fissures and cracks within the vessel, Ruto was able to assemble a formidable machine whose ripples were felt across the country in the just concluded elections.

Election 2007 Key Issues

In its own imperfect way, the current elections were the first time when some sort of principles based politics appeared: the Party of National Unity, PNU, was promising continuity and economic development while the Orange Democratic Movement, ODM, was promising change to the masses. On the surface of it, these seemed to be the issues. However, a closer inspection of the issues reveals more.

At independence time, the Kikuyu were the most populous tribe and land availability had become an issue at their home towns. Rift Valley province, which houses clash torn Eldoret and Burnt Forest , was the former white highlands that had been segregated specifically for large scale settlement by the colonists. Suddenly the colonists’ farmlands were a free for all at independence time.

Some version of what transpired thereafter holds that with the Kikuyu’s being in power, they rushed to grab the lands and to settle some of their kin who were formerly huddled in reserves. Other people hold that the colonists’ farms were in effect government property. The government of the day went on to subdivide the farms and invited land buying companies to purchase them off the government. It is argued that many Kikuyu’s took advantage to purchase lands then. There are other versions of what happened but the foregoing two are the story lines that are most heard. I must confess I am not in a position to vouch for the accuracy or otherwise of the assertions but I recite them here to help explain the last few days events.

The Rift Valley is predominantly inhabited by Kalenjins who have been rapidly multiplying and now the supply of land to take advantage of the lucrative agricultural opportunities is beginning to become a bigger issue by the day. They view the presence of many Kikuyu’s in the province as letting outsiders live in their midst and there have been repeated attempts to expel Kikuyu’s from the province. The tactics employed are mostly terrorism in the nature of killing, burning property, attacking far to reach settlements, maiming with crude weapons, issuing of threats and inflammatory leaflets amongst others. Despite repeated clashes, the Kikuyu’s have not demonstrated the will to abandon a place they now call home. Add on to this the notion that Kikuyu’s did not vote for the Kalenjin’s preferred presidential candidate, Eldoret’s clashes must thus be viewed in this light.

Kenya ‘s coast has always been an area of immense economic activity with the port being the gateway to East and Central Africa . From the earliest days of independence, quite a number of industrious Kikuyu’s started settling in Mombasa . With time, a sizeable number of small scale traders who controlled much of the coastal merchandise were Kikuyu’s. Then there is a fraction of people who argue that the sizeable revenue generated by the port in Mombasa is being sent off to the central government and the money is not helping the coastal residents much. This has led to calls for some form of federalism. Also, the laid back culture of the coastal residents when pitted against the industrious, aggressive and rough culture of the Kikuyu has led to the perception that they are an arrogant community who need to go back to where they came from. Jews in many parts of the world, including Europe and the USA , still receive this sort of reception. Clearly Kenya is not alone in this.

Due to failed agricultural policies and lack of development of the economy beyond its colonial base, rural urban migration is now the norm and the slums in the cities are growing at a very rapid rate. Kibera , Kenya ‘s biggest slum and which is Mr. Odinga’s constituency, is estimated to house a population of at least 1 million. The slums are now housing a growing population of young, poor youth’s who are impatient for change and who will vote in whoever seems to promise them a better living. Fueling the issue further are politicians promises of reducing the cost of living which in all fairness has been largely brought about by an increase in the price of crude and not entirely due to policies of Kibaki’s government.

Elections Play Out

Going into the elections, Kibaki felt confident that his returning Kenya ‘s economy onto a positive growth path would automatically lead to his reelection. This made him be holed in the seat of government and surrounded himself with technocrats as they strategized on growth et al. During that time period, Raila and Ruto were busy criss crossing the country speaking to women at functions, consoling youths at football matches, loudly pointing the government’s short comings amongst others. Kibaki seems to have forgotten that politics is by large measure a popularity contest in which the number of votes is a function of the number of hands you shake and the number of places you visit. Kibaki’s punishing travel schedule in the run up to the election is thus explained by this.

But a key failing of the Kibaki administration was not reading the signs of the times. Whereas they were helped to get into power by Raila and other people, no sooner were they in state house than they dishonoured the Memorandum of Understanding they had struck. The Mt. Kenya mafia started behaving with arrogance uber ales as if the other voting blocks did not matter and the Kikuyu’s 22% was enough to return Kibaki to power. Insensitivity in appointing people to high offices such as the Central Bank Governor did not help either. Raila and Ruto read the mood of the time and assembled all those discontented voices under a single roof named ODM.

Four month’s to elections, Kibaki saw the opinion polls and for the first time, the possibility of losing the reelection started registering. Quickly cobbling together PNU which comprised of disparate parties that had not agreed on many critical issues, Kibaki packaged himself (and himself only) as the continuity that the country needs and a moderate in the face of the radicals calling for change. As the days soldiered on, he started fairing better in the opinion polls and by the time the Steadman Group conducted its second last opinion poll, the race was actually tied. The very last opinion poll conducted indicated that Raila had a very slim lead that would be significantly affected by the voter turnout.

Election Results Delays & Election Rigging

The elections were conducted via combining presidential, parliamentary and civic elections. Kenya’s MP’s make about 12,000 USD per month in tax free pay that is exclusive of very many other allowances they make. It is estimated that many people who were running for parliament were spending between USD 120,000 to USD 300,000 to clinch a seat. This led to very hotly contested parliamentary elections where losers kept insisting that the election results not be announced until their disputes were heard and determined. As the days dragged on, the increasing delays started creating an impression of a plot to rig the elections. Even constituencies a few kilometers away from the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) headquarters took up to 3 days to announce their results.

There have been allegations of vote rigging conducted via tampering with the vote tallying process some of which has been verified such as Molo constituency where Kibaki’s votes at the counting center read 50,000 votes while results at announced at ECK headquarters were 75,000. Juja constituency has also been singled out where Kibaki’s votes counted at the constituency level were 48,000 while those announced by the ECK were 113,000 votes. So far, those are the two proven cases I am aware of but I would be happy to receive verifiable cases of vote tallying tampering.

The in explainable delays did a lot to increase tension across the country and created the impression that ECK had been compromised. Added onto this was the amateurish way that ECK kept receiving complaints from the various political parties while declaring results which lead to the commissioners being literally held ransom by the politicians every step of the way and further dented their credibility. It is very basic common sense that when you are referring a hotly contested race, you give your verdict and you do not entertain any feedback. A good way around it would have been to appoint a comments/feedback office and then have a press officer read out results with strict instructions not to entertain feedback or questions. The comments/feedback office should handle that.

Another factor to take into account is that this is the first time that the voter turn out has been the largest in the history of the country’s elections. In 2002, the total registered voters were 10 million while in 2007, the figure had risen to 14 million coupled with the highest ever recorded voter turnout, the project management challenges this state of affairs created was formidable. Add on to this severely deficient electoral laws that were negotiated in 1997 at the Inter Parliamentary Parties Group meeting at Safari Park which was all about Arap Moi making the minimum necessary concessions, it becomes understandable why the ECK’s electioneering laws have so many flaws.


As Electoral Commission of Kenya Chairman Mr. Samuel Kivuitu mentioned, his outfit has no capacity to arbitrate election disputes even in the face of overwhelming evidence. That is the work of the law courts or whatever other mechanism may exist. In the final analysis, this was a hotly contested race where both candidates had virtually the same chance of clinching the presidential race.

Some ECK officers appear to have been compromised as evidenced by some of the commissioners issuing a statement that results were doctored. This has eroded the credibility of the commission even further.

But it would be simplistic to assume that rigging occurred only in PNU strong holds as even ODM is guilty of the same. In this case, it is a question of who managed to steal and not get caught.

Raila Odinga and William Ruto are justifiably aggrieved and will most likely do all within their powers to see if they can clinch State House. The violence and chaos in the country are part honest expression by Kenyan’s of their disappointment in the electioneering exercise and part instigation by politicians. But what is not excusable is the senseless loss of lives, by and large caused by the ODM side. Burning of women, children and the elderly in a church by ODM affiliated youth in Eldoret is not forgivable. This was followed closely by the burning of another church in Ngong yesterday. No matter what explanation ODM will give, savagery and barbarism of the nature they are displaying gives the impression of a bunch of power hungry hooligans who will stop at nothing to become president. But the blame does not stop there. Kibaki’s rigging of votes in certain quarters increasingly paints him as someone desperately clinging onto power by whatever means. The senseless loss of lives due to the actions of Kibaki and Raila are not excusable and a big shame on the both of them for their selfish ways.

Kenya ‘s economy is long overdue for a total redesign. What is needed is not a maintenance engineer overseeing an outdated system. We need an architect who can mentally wipe the slate clean and position our country on a whole new level. We have total installed capacity of 1,150 MW of electricity which is what a small town in a place like Philippines consumes. Our road network is sorely inadequate and in dire need of expansion. Our rail system was done by the colonialists in the late 1800’s and is still expected to serve the country. The Mombasa port was designed to handle 10 million twenty foot equivalent units (TEU’s) whereas it is now handling 14 million and rapidly growing yet I have not seen a new port or berth being constructed. Such bottlenecks to the growth of our economy and with no visionary agenda from the politicians just goes to demonstrate how they are still a part of the problem rather than the solution. Is it any wonder that tribal flare ups due to competition for small unproductive lands are leading to loss of lives? Perhaps the time for principles based politics based on people able to manage an internet economy in Kenya and not political entrepreneurship is surely long overdue and I have faith that 2012 will be the year when the democratic space will be clearly defined and be upheld thereafter.

This syndicated essay by AfricanLiberty.org is written by Mr. Edwin Nyanducha, Principal Consultant of Strathmore University Research and Consultancy Centre. His email is edwin.nyanducha@gmail.com