Kenya Election 2017 Violence Briefing

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Kenya Election 2017 Violence Briefing

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Kenya’s 2017 election will have a significant impact on election management based on security threats and the potential for election violence. It is therefore incumbent on the government to intervene early enough to reduce the threats and attendant tensions that have triggered election violence in the past, especially in view of the recent party primaries that were marred by political violence resulting from inter-party disputes. To forestall further threats and an escalation of violence leading up to the General Elections in August 8, 2017, urgent interventions are needed from the government that focus on: election management; the devolved system of government; resource conflict including the ongoing drought, marginalization; anesthetization; populism; and,  parallel voter tallying.


Kenya’s next General election is scheduled to take place on Tuesday August 7th 2017, Voters will elect the President and his deputy; Senate and National Assembly members of Parliament and governors; women county representatives; and Members of County Assemblies. The ongoing chaotic party primary nominations are an ominous sign of what could happen in the upcoming General elections especially if one recalls the violence which erupted following the disputed 2017 elections when a political, economic and humanitarian crisis resulting from ethnically instigated violence followed the announcement of the Presidential results. At the time, even the internationally mediated conflict resolution efforts were viewed with suspicion and the role of international or external actors came to be regarded as fueled or supportive of the opposition and leaning towards regime change based on the post-cold war discourse rather than objective interventionism.

However election violence before, during and after the elections can be anticipated and conflict avoided by mitigating against emerging threats. Many of these are within the purview of electoral institutional actors, particularly the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and security agencies and to a lesser extent others, such as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), political parties, election observers, and the media.


The main threats in the coming elections consist of fraud, coercion, voter intimidation, acts of rowdiness, hooliganism, terrorism and various forms of manipulation or violence before, during and after elections. They also include armed banditry and cattle rustling, in addition to the adverse debilitating effects of conflicts borne out of the scramble for resources emanating from the ongoing drought. The creation of counties and the resultant divisive and fiercely competitive power formations in the devolved units; weak political parties that lack of logistical capacity; the emergence of ethnic based militias; a growing populism; and, continued competition for diminished local and environmental related resources, including water and minerals in Northern Kenya, are other factors that are likely to trigger election violence.

Fortunately, the state is now more resilient in relation to the diminished challenges that threaten its stability unlike in the 2007/8 election period. Furthermore, the dynamics that pitted 41 tribes against the dominant Kikuyu are no longer in place despite the large NASA coalition currently under formation, thereby diminishing the reach and effectiveness of ethnic-based violent extremism. As a result, the likelihood of ethnically driven conflict and violent extremism has reduced as the ruling party now consists of at least two large communities with strong pockets of support from other conflict-prone areas. Unfortunately, violence has on the other hand become less centralized and more diffused as a result of the county government dispensation.

Key Areas of Intervention

The ongoing debates and recommendations on what the government can to do to enhance peace and security by reducing election violence and threats to stability revolves around six key issues:

  1. Election Management Institutions– the capacity of the IEBC, NCIC, Party Election Management Boards (EMBs), and security forces to ensure that the electoral process is credible.
  2. Devolution– ethnic incitement and new militias that have come up, leading to the increased potential for dispersed violence, with victims targeted on the basis of the assumed connection between their ethnic affiliation and support of particular candidates especially in the case of the presidential vote.
  3. Resources and the prevailing drought – the prolonged drought that has been ravaging the country has led to resource conflicts such as cattle rustling and other inter-ethnic or clan conflicts and disturbances. These conflicts usually have political undertones in the form of politicians using proceeds of cattle rustling to finance their political projects and enrich themselves and their cronies, to acts of displacement aimed at giving or denying advantage to particular politicians or parties in elections.
  4. Ethnic mobilization highlighting political ethnicity as opposed to moral marginalization and exclusion– ethnicization of grievances and ethnic-based rivalry. This is highly pertinent in regard to politicians across the board as political formations are mainly driven by grievances stemming from perceptions of ethnic exclusion and contracted political space.
  5. Populism – including incitement through hate speech and fake news online, especially through the social media, and open incitement which leads to violent extremism or discriminative action against certain ethnic groups or associations.
  6. Parallel Voter Tallying (PVT) – threats by the opposition to run a parallel voter tallying center similar to the one by managed by the IEBC. However, it is only the IEBC, which is mandated by law to carry out elections and establish a national tallying mechanism and centre. This threat increases the potential for increased disputes and consequent election-related conflict.

Dr. Robert Kagiri, API Director of Programmes is the author of this Report.