Hopes that Kenya’s last elections on December 27, 2007, would be seen as a model for African democracies were dashed within 48 hours of the vote when violence erupted amid charges of election result manipulation.
Kenya, once a bastion of stability in a volatile region, suddenly seemed perched on the brink of civil war as violent clashes claimed over 1,000 lives, displaced more than 300,000 Kenyans, and cost the Kenyan economy more than a billion U.S. dollars in losses. After two months of instability, a power sharing deal was finally brokered in February by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
NDI has been involved in Kenya since 1992, and before the election the Institute worked with all of the country’s major political parties to help them refine positions on key issues, improve coalition-building, and strengthen nomination rules and procedures. Activities included an emphasis on strengthening party institutions and increased participation by women and young people. NDI also worked with the different political parties in late 2006 to establish Inter-Party Provincial Committees (IPPCs) in 12 districts identified as hot spots throughout Kenya. Members of the committees were drawn from all major political parties in each district, working together to sustain and strengthen a political environment of respect and tolerance through dialogue.
The move by NDI to establish the IPPCs was informed by historical factors as well as the nature of elections, which were closely contested in the past. Historically, certain areas in the country have been known to experience violence during elections as evidenced by the 1992 and 1997 ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley. The 2007 elections were largely a contest between two contenders, the Party of National Unity (PNU) led by President Mwai Kibaki and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Hon. Raila Odinga. The fact that both PNU’s and ODM’s leaders are from two of Kenya’s largest ethnic groups, and command huge followings from their respective communities, meant that ethnicity became a factor in the elections and greatly influenced voting patterns. Citizens tended to vote for members of their own ethnic group. In addition, the fact that both Raila and Kibaki drew support from other provinces, which traditionally were divided along ethnic lines, further exacerbated ethnic tensions among communities living in those provinces. This was particularly the case in the Rift Valley and Western provinces.
The result was that the 2007 elections were viewed as a showdown between the two principals and communities supporting them. This increased ethnic intolerance, and the announcement of the disputed presidential election results catapulted people into revenge killings targeted at members of communities perceived to be their opponents. It should be noted, however, that while the post election violence had an ethnic dimension, its escalation and proliferation in other parts of the country were more a result of deep historical, economic and social factors existing in Kenya since independence that had not been amicably resolved. The election outcome ignited historically repressed grievances.
After the violence erupted, NDI expanded and tailored its IPPC work to the post-election dynamics. In areas affected by violence, the IPPCs succeeded in forestalling its proliferation by adopting new strategies to combat it. In areas unaffected by violence, the IPPCs focused mainly, and successfully, on ensuring that peace and calm prevailed.
For example, in Coast province these efforts, in conjunction with other regional activities to promote dialogue, helped assure that violence did not proliferate to the scale witnessed in other regions. The IPPC, with assistance from NDI, forged a partnership with newly-elected members of parliament (MPs) from the region and mounted a vigilant anti-violence campaign. Participants reached out to imams of local mosques, leaders and representatives of youth militia groups, members of the local media, and representatives of the business community. By including a diverse group of stakeholders in frequent meetings and regularly updating local media on their activities, the committee raised the profile of its efforts and encouraged popular support for regional peace.
NDI also adopted new strategies and techniques to encourage the dialogue. These strategies included: involving the newly-elected MPs to conduct forums with the IPPCs, frequent media briefings on the conduct and results of the meetings, and reaching out to highly-regarded community elders and the provincial administrations to promote unity. The Institute further aided the efforts of IPPCs and their allies by encouraging the business community to refrain from discriminating against employees on the basis of their ethnicity.
To complement Mr. Annan’s mediation efforts, NDI invited former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik to Kenya. He met with Kenyan leaders to advise on the formulation of the proposed Grand Coalition to institutionalize the government power-sharing mechanism between the PNU and the ODM. Mr. Bondevik met with Prime Minister-designate Raila Odinga of ODM and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka of the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K) to discuss coalition issues including structure, governance platform, composition, sustainability and conflict management. He also met with church and civil society leaders, including 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai. President Mwai Kibaki of the PNU and Mr. Odinga of ODM then discussed the recommendations developed by NDI and Mr. Bondevik and agreed to create a six-member committee to develop a governance platform for the coalition.
Under the power-sharing arrangement, Mr. Kibaki will remain president while Mr. Odinga will become prime minister. Cabinet posts will be shared equally between the two partners. To implement the power sharing deal, parliament has also enacted a constitutional and legislative bill. NDI has planned a number of forums to help parties understand their roles and responsibilities within the power sharing context of the Grand Coalition. The Institute hopes to extend the coalition-building efforts to the grassroots level through the IPPCs by helping IPPCs organize forums that can identify ways they can support the coalition at the local level.
News of the peace agreement signing was received with jubilation across the country. Normalcy is slowly returning to many of the affected areas as evidenced by the return of significant numbers of displaced people to their homes. Members of parliament have acted expeditiously and unanimously to enact legislation to implement the peace accord. But much remains to be done to ensure a lasting peace, especially in the areas of land reform and electoral, financial and judicial reforms to ensure social equity. Emphasis on sustaining and strengthening the coalition government also is needed.
The tragedy of the post-election violence and the enigma of the power sharing agreement have, ironically, had a positive effect – generating significant public and political goodwill that provide an opportunity to address issues that have been swept under the carpet since independence. Successful resolution of these issues can open the door for Kenya to regain its position as an icon of peace and democracy in the region.
Published on Mar. 27, 2008