On 26 October an election rerun was held in most parts of Kenya amid tight security and a tense environment. Despite extensive pressure from many sides — including clerics, civil society organisations, the business community, diplomats, international media, and others — the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta resisted calls to postpone the election date.
In several opposition strongholds, there were physical obstructions to the polling stations on the day that included school gates being welded shut, and there was also tacit pressure on voters to stay at home. Elections were comprehensively boycotted in Homa Bay, Siaya, Migori and Kisumu counties — all located in opposition leader Raila Odinga’s heartland in the west. However, in most parts of the country, the election rerun was largely unobstructed, especially in those areas that had supported Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto.
At least four people were killed on election day during protests and clashes with the police. The following day, ethnic clashes were reported from Kawangware — a slum to the west of Nairobi — with reported police violence from Bungoma County and elsewhere.
Voter turnout fell, with just 38.84% of all eligible voters actually going to the polling stations
Meanwhile, the voter turnout fell significantly compared with the 8 August election. The final result revealed that Kenyatta had won 98% of all votes cast with a voter turnout of just 38.84% of all eligible voters; less than half of the 79.5% recorded in August. The likelihood is that this is higher than the real figure but, importantly, is not as inflated as other predictions such as the 48% figure quoted by IEBC’s chairman, Wafula Chebukati.
Since the election the IEBC’s communication has been sluggish, confusing, and contradictory. Many observers had pointed out inconsistencies: between forms submitted and the results reported; areas where the election had been postponed but had then registered results; forms that were missing security marks; and that polling stations reported votes far exceeding the number of registered voters, among other things.
Kenyatta’s weaknesses have become more apparent because of the low voter turnout, which will affect how his government can operate and highlights several issues:
- The voter numbers gives credence to the opposition’s claims that the August 2017 figures were manipulated.
- A rerun of the election whereby Kenyatta appeared a safe winner — because of Odinga’s boycott — may have led voters to stay away.
- It also indicated that any disillusionment with, or opposition to, Kenyatta was not only a Luo issue — as it was often portrayed — but a national issue.
Kenyatta did not, in the immediate aftermath of the election rerun, reach out to acknowledge Kenya’s deep divisions or help to reconcile the opposition supporters. His own Jubilee Party — which is a fragile coalition of several weak smaller parties epitomised by the alliance between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups — has no strong internal governance structure. Given Kenya’s fragmented party landscape, party discipline simply does not exist, so he cannot rely on his parliamentary majority to push through his agenda.
Ruto is loathed in the Kikuyu community after the 2007 post-election violence
The low voter turnout also raises new questions for the 2022 election when Kenyatta has promised to support his deputy, William Ruto, in his presidential campaign. Ruto is loathed in the Kikuyu community after the 2007 post-election violence — much of which was between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin — and the reduced legitimacy from this election raises the important question as to whether Kenyatta will be able to deliver on his promise, even if he intended to keep it.
It is clear that many of the problems flagged in the August tallying process by the opposition and the Supreme Court have been unresolved. The greatest impact has been the declining level of confidence and legitimacy that voters, from all sides, have in Kenya’s institutions and the rule of law. This is a great concern looking forward.
As Menas Associates have regularly argued, Kenyatta’s next five years as president are likely to continue the existing trends of: growing authoritarianism; a further reduction in press freedom; and a further hollowing out of laws and institutions.
several governor and MP elections have been challenged in court since 8 August
While the opposition will pursue its relatively successful ‘lawfare’ strategy — several governor and MP elections have been challenged in court since 8 August — it has also announced that it would transform itself into a ‘resistance movement’. What this entails in practice remains unclear.
Perhaps the most important observation is that even with a semblance of normality returning — exemplified by the resumption of a ‘business as usual’ approach in much of Nairobi — Kenya’s political outlook is bound to become even more fractious. This marks the second consecutive election after the violent 2007-2008 crisis where figures in the presidential election were discredited. Most importantly, the rerun has done little to assuage seething resentments and grievances from 2007.