Run-Up to Kenya’s Election 2017

Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Director, Chris Msando, addresses a news conference in Nairobi, Kenya, July 6, 2017. Msando was murdered a few days ago. Photo by Thomas Mukoya. Original here.

Kenya votes for a new President next week.* Elections are contentious in Kenya. My abrupt departure from field research in December 2008, after a scary evening listening to gunshots, was related to the presidential election later in the month.

The 2008 election was followed by 1,000+ deaths and an ethnic “unmixing” of the country, in which ~600,000 people move more or less permanently to areas where their own ethnic group is in the majority. Basically, when ethnic identity becomes salient (in this case, via the move to murder folks simply for being the “wrong” ethnicity), people feel they have to be with “their own kind” in order to be physically safe.

Three days ago, this happened:

Kenya election official tortured, murdered before vote, officials say: A senior Kenyan election official was found murdered on Monday, three days after he went missing, poll officials said.

Another article about the killing, from VOA, notes that “the nationwide vote is one week away, and the organization of the elections has been a source of tension during the past year. Msando was to oversee the use of biometric voter technology.”

Another related set of events has been happening over the last year as well. The run-up to an election is a time that politicians and citizens make “moves” to grab new benefits, in hopes that after the election, newly-elected leaders will allow them to keep what they grabbed. This article uses the area where I did my dissertation research, Laikipia, to illustrate a larger point about conflict associated with land pressure:

Loss of Fertile Land Fuels ‘Looming Crisis’ Across Africa — Climate change, soil degradation and rising wealth are shrinking the amount of usable land in Africa. But the number of people who need it is rising fast.

I’ve met some of the pastoralist families (herders) and white landowners mentioned in the article. (N.B. I’m not usually a fan of Jeffrey Gettleman’s articles and don’t generally recommend him as a resource. I think this article is reasonable, though.)


It gives a sense of the “stew” of problems in the area–and in various other parts of the continent–all of which are difficult and inter-related. Among them: colonialism, bad policy, land degradation, greed, and on and on (e.g. weak property rights, climate-change-exacerbated drought, population growth, collective action problems, election-year politics).

It’s heartbreaking and infuriating—and it goes without saying that the most vulnerable suffer the most (kids, impoverished families, etc.).

* I’ve previously written about Kenyan elections, including the 2008 presidential election when things got really violent (here, here, here, here, and here); in 2010 when they amended their constitution; and in the 2013 presidential election (here and here).

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