The violence that has engulfed Kenya since the disputed December 27 election has deep historical roots and it will take more than a recount or the formation of a national unity government to resolve the crisis. Although December 27 was billed as the crowning event of the country's two-decade struggle for democratic rule, all of the ingredients for violence were present prior to the election. Public opinion polls indicated that the race between incumbent president Mwai Kibaki and his principal challenger, Raila Odinga, was too close to call; outbreaks of violence had occurred in the run-up to previous elections in 1992 and 1997; and many Kenyans, especially civil society leaders, worried that unless the Election Commission of Kenya (ECK) conducted the December elections in a manner that was free, fair, and universally regarded as legitimate, the losers would not accept the verdict. Sadly, their fears were correct. Between 500 and 1,000 people have died in post-election violence while an estimated 250,000 Kenyans, mainly Kikuyu settlers in the western Rift Valley, have been displaced from their homes.
The December 27 election -- the fourth since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992 -- pitted Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) against his former ally Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and ODM splinter candidate Kalonzo Musyoka. The turnout was the highest on record, with approximately 70 percent of registered voters participating. The election was arguably the freest and fairest since independence until its final stage. In marked contrast to prior elections, both the presidential candidates and those seeking legislative office were unimpeded during the course of their campaigns. The polls opened more or less on time; nearly all voters who wished to cast their ballots had done so by the time polling stations closed; and the counting of ballots at nearly all polling stations supervised by domestic and international observers (myself included) was slow but transparent. Agents of the rival candidates signed off on the count expecting that the rest of the process would follow ECK procedures.
Unfortunately, they were wrong.