Kenyan Election Tests Country’s New Constitution and Our Operations

Written by Andrew McNamee, Manager of Public Policy and Kepha Machira, PR & Communications Officer (Kenya)

Kenyans go to the polls today to elect (or relect) their president, his deputy, members of Parliament, county governors, and ward representatives. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are running for reelection against former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka, in a rematch of their 2013 contest. The first election held under the new constitution in 2013 was relatively peaceful, but an attack on Ruto’s home by a man with a machete and the torture and murder of the electoral commission’s head IT officer, both in the last month, have generated new fears.

The election is the second held under the constitution approved in 2010, in response to the violence that roiled the country following its 2007 election. The violence following the 2007 election, which claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands, is something no Kenyan wishes to see repeated. The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2008 to mediate a political compromise between the conflicting parties. The National Accord and Reconciliation Act of 2008, which temporarily reestablished the offices of Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers, was the result of this effort.

The importance of stability in Kenya cannot be understated. The country’s economy is growing significantly and diversifying, and is now sub-Saharan Africa’s sixth largest. Its proximity to South Sudan and Somalia, two unstable countries afflicted by famine, makes it pivotal for global security. The country hosts the UN HQ for Africa, the largest U.S. diplomatic mission on the continent, the African operations HQs of many NGOs, and receives significant security assistance from the West. Kenya is an anchor state in a volatile region, but its ethnic conflicts have never been far from the surface.

The ethnic divisions laid bare by the 2007 election violence have roots that run much deeper than the presidential election. Divisions among tribes affect schoolchildren, as children are moved among schools based on the perceived tribe-loyalty of their parents. This has affected schools where Feed the Children operates its programs, and our staff have witnessed significant relocation because of anxiety about potential 2017 election violence. Buses have been transporting Kenyans from urban areas with a high risk of political violence to rural ethnic enclaves.

This relocation is harming the prospects of Kenyan children served by our programs. Although school terms were scheduled to end in August, many parents removed their children from school as early as June. The parents we depend on to implement the Cash to School program have evacuated, and those in Village Savings & Loan groups have left before completion of the cycle.

In response, we have coordinated with other Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to prepare for potential violence, and to address the needs of vulnerable populations if violence affects their communities. We seek to prevent any unnecessary loss of life by addressing both the food and non-food needs of the communities we serve in Samburu and Turkana that could be affected.