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Post-election Kenya

By Jennifer E. Coffman (James Madison Univeristy)

2008 Copyright © American Anthropology Association

It is mid-January as I write this, and many of us have been anxiously watching events in Kenya. Balloting took place on 27 December and went smoothly overall, despite some immediate problems, such as polling stations in Kibera (a large slum in Nairobi) opening several hours late and with names missing from the registers.

Preliminary polling had indicated that opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) had a slight lead over incumbent President Mwai Kibaki of the Party for National Unity (PNU). Initial returns indicated a still more significant lead, but the gap began to close rapidly on 29 December. On 30 December, Samuel Kivuitu, the Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, declared that Kibaki had won the General Election. After Kivuitu’s announcement, Kibaki was sworn in during a notably quick and private ceremony at State House. Immediately, protesters flooded the streets of all major cities and many towns, with the resulting violence a confusing mess of political protest, opportunistic looting, and intentional targeting of people associated with particular ethnic groups. International election monitors, politicos, Kenyans and Kenya-philes from all over the country and beyond vigorously debated the veracity of the election results announced on 30 December. Amidst all of the confusion, Kivuitu himself admitted that he did not know whether Kibaki had actually won.

In the three weeks following elections, at least 600 Kenyans have been killed, 250,000 displaced, and countless more have suffered from heightened insecurity. Issues of insecurity preceded the election, of course, and are symbolized by and rooted in incredible economic disparities among Kenyan citizens. While the Kenyan economy experienced a nearly 6% growth rate in 2007, half of Kenya’s rapidly-growing population still lived below the poverty line. Concerns about land tenure and employment opportunities have plagued independent Kenya, and a series of corrupt governments, land grabs, and questionable business practices have only exacerbated the tension. This recent election, then, served to ignite long-brewing frustrations. As predicted, ethnic politicking resulted in ethnic violence in many parts of the country.

Yet, election day results for members of parliament (MPs) have largely been accepted, marking a huge turnover. Many incumbent MPs who were part of Kibaki’s PNU and even cabinet lost their seats, as PNU secured only 33 of the 210 seats in the Kenyan Parliament, while ODM attained 95 seats. Subsequently, ODM’s Kenneth Marende was pronounced Speaker of the Tenth Parliament in another tight contest, and shortly thereafter, another ODM candidate, Farah Maalim, won the Deputy Speaker’s position. Will the MPs be able to resolve some of the crises of the state highlighted by the presidential election? Perhaps they will have achieved something toward this by the time this column is in print. If so, it will have been none too soon. For, as I write, the post-election violence in Kenya – already dubbed “the Kenya syndrome” – has already led to pre-election anxieties in other sub-Saharan African states with pending elections. Zimbabwe is one such state, and elections are scheduled for March….

The Kenya Red Cross Society has issued an appeal to assist a projected 500,000 people in the humanitarian crisis in Kenya. To learn more and help them meet their goal, please visit

For more information on the situation in Kenya, see Kenya’s daily newspapers, the Daily Nation ( and The Standard (, and watch NTV Kenya at See also Pambazuka News ( for additional critical commentary.

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