The road to elections
On August 8th, 19 million Kenyans partook in their right to vote for their future government. Although they could also vote for the National Assembly and the existing local councils, all eyes were on the electoral battle between incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his rival Raila Odinga, in their race for Presidency. Many were concerned about a possible repeat of the violence that followed the elections in 2007. The 2007 post-election violence had its roots in the opposition rejecting the outcome of the polls, stirred by ethnic tensions.
Concerns about possible unrest within the country
Now, ten years later, the road to the elections was marked by concerns of repetition in vicious outbursts. Especially after the murder of Chris Musando, an ICT expert working with IEBC (Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission), and the body charged with managing the elections. His death cast a large shadow over the transparency of the elections; fear of attacks and violent uprisings grew in the weeks before the election date, and many people, including expatriates in the public and private sector, fled the country.
Tribalism and electoral violence
Why do elections come and go with the fear of possible violence? There are 42 different tribes in Kenya, and previous elections have often worked with tribal lines. Currently, the reigning President Uhuru Kenyatta has built an alliance with his running mate William Ruto, thereby unifying two of the largest tribes in Kenya: the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin respectively. Opposition leader Raila Odinga mainly receives support from his Luo tribe. Tribal interests and values are an important, often overlooked factor in Western news during the Kenyan elections. But we can see that violence often takes place in opposition strongholds, because they feel neglected and exempt for power.
The result of the elections
‘There was fear in the air for a repetition of the 2007 post-election violence’, says Dick Harting, representative of Bles Dairies East Africa in Eldoret. ‘Although the memories of 2007 were fresh in the minds of people in this area, it was striking to see how calm and peacefully the elections passed.’
The presidential elections were won by Kenyatta and Ruto. Kenyatta received 54,3% of the votes cast against 44,7% for opposition leader Odinga. The opposition refuses to acknowledge Kenyatta’s victory, which has led to some unrest in Kisumu city (an opposition and one of Raila’s strongholds) and in certain areas of Nairobi. International election monitoring organizations and observers’ officially expressed their confidence and satisfaction with the elections, commending the IEBC for a fair and open process. On August 7, Odinga called for a strike over disputed polls, but despite the opposition’s call many businesses were opened in Nairobi.
Several foreign investors and businessmen left the country as a result of the elections, and were staying abreast of the developments within Kenya. Betty Gikonyo, Director of General Foods in Kenya, explains ‘in the week before the elections, the streets were quiet. All flights out of the country were full. Since Friday, three days after the elections, all flights are fully booked again. This time people are flying back to Nairobi.’
Kenya suffered a severe blow following the post-election violence in 2007, with significant repercussions for its fast growing economy. The elections, especially the fear of violence that comes with it, has a significantly negative effect on the Kenyan economy: in short, it slows down economic growth. In addition, inflation is at a current high of 12%, there is drought in the Horn of Africa and North Eastern Kenya, further contributing to the pressure surounding the economic growth agenda.
Business usually thrives best with a stable government that fosters economic exchange and investments. Gikonyo says that ‘since Monday public transport is fully operational again, businesses are open and everybody is going to work. Kenyans all know that sitting in the corner does not help to further build the country.’ But, after months of campaigning and preparations for the 2017 elections, and with current challenges of increasing food prices, slowing bank lending, and high unemployment rates, life must go on.
This paper is brought to you by Arne Doornebal & Jan Maas,The Netherlands-African Business Council.