Kenya's 2013 Elections

By Harbeson, John W. | African Studies Review, April 2014 | Go to article overview

Kenya's 2013 Elections


Harbeson, John W., African Studies Review


KeyWords: Kenya; elections; International Criminal Court; democracy

Kenya managed to conduct passable and relatively peaceful national and local elections in March 2013, the first such elections since the passage of its comprehensively democratic Constitution in August 2010. The relatively smooth transition from the departing Mwai Kibaki administration to the new Uhuru Kenyatta regime has marked a critical step forward from the debacle of state-threatening violence of the 2007 elections, in which more than a thousand people died and an estimated six hundred thousand persons were internally displaced. At the same time the elections, in and of themselves, represented an important step toward implementation of the new Constitution, approved in a special referendum, after voters rejected a draft five years earlier.

The relatively violence-free outcome of the 2013 elections, on its face, seemed to offer at least a partial refutation of two literatures critical of conducting competitive, multiparty elections in weak states, as Kenya continues to be regarded.! One influential literature contends that these elections, absent also adequate levels of economic development, risk promoting stateweakening domestic violence and even international conflict (see Snyder 2000; Mansfield & Snyder 2005). The passage of the 2010 Constitution offered an affirmation that state strengthening democratization is possible after severe electoral violence, albeit, in this case, with the aid of international mediation in the form of the Kenya National Development and Reconciliation (KNDR) program. The 2008 KNDR agenda had succeeded in joining the election opponents from the 2007 election in a power sharing agreement fashioned by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and his team of Eminent African Personalities. For the new government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, however, the complex task of furthering progress on the KNDR agenda is now only one of the objectives. The government must also find a way forward in terms of Kenya's goals and the roles it wishes to play in furthering peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, especially in the wake of the terrorist attack in Nairobi in September 2013.

The other literature also insists that democracy must follow sequentially after the creation of a strong state and certain levels of economic development (see Lipset 1981; Huntington 1991; Linz & Stepan 1996). As a practical matter, however, with the end of the Cold War, sub-Saharan African countries found themselves confronting a number of challenges simultaneously, including the challenges of Third Wave democratization, the requirements of economic development, and the need for state strengthening after decades of authoritarian rule. Thus, following competitive elections, nascent democracies in Kenya and elsewhere in the region have needed to initiate and reinforce the socioeconomic development and state strengthening that may not have been accomplished beforehand. To what extent did the relatively violence-free 2013 elections indicate that enough of the KNDR agenda had been accomplished, or will the jury still be out on this question until perhaps the next general elections in 2018? Time alone will tell.

This commentary will summarize the outcomes of the election and its major accomplishments, and then consider the extent to which Kenya may or may not have managed to create the foundations for the future free, fair, and peaceful elections that are needed to achieve a sustainable democratic state.

Election Outcomes

In a crowded field of eight candidates in the presidential election, Uhuru Kenyatta's Jubilee alliance prevailed, receiving 50.51 percent of the valid votes cast among the 85 percent of the country's 14,352,533 registered voters who turned out. This result barely enabled Kenyatta to escape an obligatory second-round runoff contest with the opposition candidate from the Congress for Reform and Democracy (CORD), Raila Odinga. …

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