Breaking the Stalemate in Kenya
January 8, 2008
The historical origins of the violence that has engulfed Kenya since the discredited election of December 27 run deep, and it will take more than a recount of the vote and/or the formation of a government of national unity to resolve the crisis. Although nearly 9 million Kenyans went to the polls in what was to be the crowning event of the country’s two-decade struggle for democratic rule, the ingredients for post-election violence were clear. Public opinion polls conducted before the election indicated that the race between incumbent president Mwai Kibaki and his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, was too close to call. Outbreaks of violence had occurred in the run-up to previous elections in 1992 and 1997. Many Kenyans, especially the leaders of civil society, worried that unless the Election Commission of Kenya (ECK) conducted the December elections in a manner that was scrupulously “free and fair” and regarded as legitimate by all candidates, the losers would not accept the verdict, and violence would ensue.
Sadly, their fears were correct. Despite many warnings and pleas for restraint before the election—from Kenyan civil society, the Kenyan press, and the international community, including the United States—an election that started well has ended in crisis. Between 500 and 1,000 people have died in post-election violence, while more than 250,000 Kenyans, mainly Kikuyu settlers in the western Rift Valley, have been displaced from their homes. How and why did this crisis evolve, and how might it be resolved?
For more information on the Kenyan elections you can view the Kenya: A Post-Election Assessment event.