Kenya’s Electoral Impasse

The Roots of the Current Standoff

Supporters of Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta cheer during a Jubilee Party campaign caravan rally in Nairobi, Kenya, October 2017.  Baz Ratner / REUTERS

Not for the first time this year, Kenyan politics is in crisis mode. After the country’s Supreme Court voided the results of the August 8 presidential election, a new election was scheduled for October 26. Although this was intended to clarify who the country wants as its new leader and draw a line under previous controversies, the latest contest rapidly descended into acrimony and confusion before a single ballot had even been cast. At the time of writing, it is not clear who is running and whether the contest will actually be held in some parts of the country. Only one thing seems clear: it is extremely unlikely that these election results will be any more credible than those they replace.

This electoral impasse is taking place side by side with what can only be described as a standoff between opposition supporters and state security forces in some areas of the country. This was evident, for example, on Mashujaa Day (a national holiday to celebrate Kenyan heroes), when official celebrations had to be canceled for the first time since independence in four of six counties in Nyanza Province, the stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA), owing to concerns that the proceedings would be disrupted by anti-election demonstrations. The only public function to mark election day in Kisumu, the region’s main city, was a political one organized by the opposition, where, despite the presence of various NASA luminaries, state security officers were notably absent. According to locals, it was “obvious” that had the police been there, they would have been chased away.


What triggered the current confusion was the Kenyan Supreme Court’s decision on September 1 to annul the results of the August 8 presidential election. As part of the decision, the court ordered the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the organization responsible for running the polls, to hold a “fresh” poll within 60 days. Nullifying the election of a sitting president was an unprecedented act, and the

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