Another High-Stakes Presidential Election Has Kenya on Edge

Another High-Stakes Presidential Election Has Kenya on Edge
A Kenyan election volunteer walks past ballot boxes and electoral material to be distributed to various polling stations in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 7, 2017 (AP photo by Jerome Delay).

Kenyans will head to the polls on Aug. 9 in a presidential election that, no matter how it turns out, will usher in a transition after President Uhuru Kenyatta’s two terms in office. Two figures have emerged as the main contenders to succeed him. Raila Odinga, a long-time opposition leader turned insider, has secured Kenyatta’s support as he stages his fifth bid for the presidency. Odinga will face Deputy President William Ruto, Kenyatta’s erstwhile ally who, despite a falling-out between the two in recent years, has fashioned a political base founded on a promise to more fairly redistribute the benefits of economic growth.

Kenyan elections are generally high-stakes affairs. Leading politicians often view the outcome as existential, whether to preserve their careers, protect their business interests or both. In December 2007, claims of electoral fraud in a context of fraught ethnic relations led to serious violence, which lasted until February 2008 and left over 1,000 people dead. Kenyatta and Ruto were both indicted at the International Criminal Court, or ICC, for the role they allegedly played in inciting the violence. They subsequently joined forces for Kenyatta’s two successful presidential bids in 2013 and 2017, but their seemingly irreparable relationship this time around could constitute the most significant threat to peaceful polls in August.

Kenya, however, has come a long way since 2007. Although intra-elite relations in the ruling party are severely strained, social tensions—including between ethnic groups—are at a low ebb. In fact, if anything, the public mood regarding the elections seems to be one of indifference. Voter registration among the youth has been remarkably low. Recent voter registration drives captured only 2.5 million voters, well below the 6 million that the electoral commission had envisioned; Kenya now has 22.1 million registered voters out of a population of about 55 million. The number of young voters, 18-35 years old, also dropped by just over 5 percent, indicating exhaustion among the public at the byzantine alliance-building among political elites and the consistent failure across administrations to deliver real change.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.