Kenya’s Dynastic Political Rivalry
By admin August 10, 2017

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On Tuesday, as the results of the Presidential election poured in, Kenya anxiously laid in wait – would mass ethnic violence erupt as it did in 2007 or would a peaceful and credible demonstration of democracy prevail? After 97 percent of the votes counted, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken what appears to be an unassailable lead while his long-time dynastic rival Raila Odinga called the results of Tuesday’s election “a complete fraud.”

If Tuesday’s election proved anything it is that dynastic politics is alive and well in Kenya. The dynastic tribal rivalry, characterized by ethnic tensions between the Kenyatta and Odinga families, stretches nearly half a century and is a study in contrasts – the once former allies in the struggle for independence have become bitter rivals.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, a wealthy 55-year-old businessman, is of Kikuyu ethnicity, a group that has provided three of the four presidents since Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963, including Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first president. Throughout the campaign, the self-branded “digital president” emphasised continued infrastructure investment as a means of attracting foreign investors in order to fuel strong economic growth. The $3.2bn Chinese-funded Nairobi-Mombasa railway has highlighted this. Kenyatta has also reached out to youth to embrace Kenya’s mantle as the digital innovation capital on the African continent.

Meanwhile, Raila Odinga, a former political prisoner and son of Kenya’s first vice president, is an ethnic Leo from the country’s west, a region beset by long-held resentment of being neglected by the central government and excluded from power. Odinga has been self-characterized as a representative of those excluded and has promised to deepen devolution and invest in poor communities. While Odinga has been able to sustain his political party, the Orange Democratic Movement, for over a decade and mobile well beyond his Luo community, he has been unsuccessful in three runs for the presidency. In 2007 after Odinga alleged the election results were rigged, the country was plunged into ethnic violence that left more than 1,400 people dead – Kenya’s worst crisis for decades.

In a similar vein to stern criticism of previous elections, Odinga claimed Tuesday’s election was fraudulent – blaming an elaborate hacking scheme that drastically manipulated the elections outcome. As such, he has told his supporters not to accept Kenyatta’s re-election.

The hard-fought election had stoked fears of violence. Last week the man in charge of Kenya’s electronic voting system, was tortured and murdered. Former U.S. President Barack Obama urged “Kenyan leaders to reject violence and incitement; respect the will on the people; urge security forces to act professionally and neutrally; and work together no matter the outcome” he said in a statement.

On Tuesday, streets across most of the country were empty while businesses remained shut. However, Odinga’s claims that the election was stolen from him sparked isolated pros in his strongholds in Nairobi slums and the port city of Kisumu, with violence erupting and at least five people killed.

While Kenya’s economy has flourished and Nairobi is considered a tech hub of East Africa, the country’s politicians have been unable to quell tribal loyalty in the national political spectrum. Thus, for a country widely considered the pillar of stability in a fragile region, the fallout from Tuesday’s election will be critical to strengthening the peaceful electoral processes of other African countries.


Further Reading:

Eight things about the Kenyan elections

Kenya’s president takes strong lead in election count as opposition claims results hacked

Kenya election 2017: Raila Odinga says election systems hacked

The Importance Of A Peaceful Presidential Election In Kenya

Obama Weighs In on Kenyan Election, Urging Calm

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