Can national dialogue resolve Kenya’s recurring post-election instability?


A July 29 agreement between Kenyan President William Ruto and main opposition leader Raila Odinga ended months of street protests against tax and cost-of-living increases, many of which were responded with a heavy hand by the police.

He deal lays the groundwork for a negotiated settlement, but each side has demands that could still collapse the talks. How these pressures are handled will be a major test for both leaders.

Kenya’s political stability has long been tied to elections. All the results of the last four hotly contested polls were questioned. After the devastating post-election violence of 2007, the disputed presidential election led to the formation of a coalition government. In 2013, the Supreme Court confirmed the election of Uhuru Kenyatta as president. His decision to annul the 2017 results led to a repeat, which Odinga boycotted. The public protests that followed culminated in the famous “handshake.” deal between Messrs. Kenyatta and Odinga.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga.

After losing the 2022 election to Ruto, Odinga again questioned the result. The Supreme Court sustained the result, but Odinga has stressed that, while he respects the court ruling, he does not agree with its verdict. He called the elections fraudulent and refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Ruto administration.

In the interest of electoral reform, Odinga has called for the restructuring of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and a forensic study. audit from your server. His successful mobilization of supporters around the issue coincided with an increase in the cost of living due to new tax regimes and the removal of the fuel subsidy.

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Rising prices of fuel, sugar and corn flour fueled public anger toward the government. The opposition has capitalized on this sentiment, portraying Ruto’s administration as callous and failing to deliver on the president’s pro-poor campaign promises.

Subsequent public protests led to the destruction of property and the looting of businesses, derailing the economic progress of the country, which was already being hit by soaring inflation. Police action against protesters resulted in 30 deceased since March, according to Amnesty International.

Ruthless political competition, which often has ethnic overtones, along with electoral malpractices and winner-take-all constitutional arrangement, are major triggers of political violence.

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The July meeting between Messrs. Ruto and Odinga laid the groundwork for a negotiated settlement. Each party has appointed a five-member team to form a National Dialogue Committee. A technical committee will help craft the agenda, which includes increasing the cost of living.

The dialogue committee now also has strength and can recommend constitutional, legal and political reforms. This after the National Assembly and the Senate voted unanimously. approved the formation of the committee in August, giving it much-needed legal status.

William Ruto at the ICC. Image credit: Bas Czerwinski/AP

While the dialogue committee is expected to finalize its report in about two months (as of August 29), both sides could choose to reach an agreement in the interest of stabilizing the country politically and economically. With a struggling economy and a dissatisfied population, Messrs Ruto and Odinga must ensure that negotiations succeed.

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The two previous administrations dissipated political tensions by forming inclusive governments. The current regime seems reluctant to take this path, giving the dialogue committee the opportunity to question the shortcomings of past conflict resolution efforts and find a solution that benefits everyone. This must include a move away from the ethnocentric and zero-sum political formula, which threatens Kenya’s nationhood.

Political party leaders will have to put aside their chest-beating politics and recognize that a more inclusive system is needed for an ethnically diverse country like Kenya. Political formations that represent all ethnic identities are needed at the party level and in government. With its constitutional mandate, the National Dialogue Committee can reimagine electoral practices that could stabilize Kenyan democracy and politics.

The country needs a national political structure that recognizes Kenya’s ethnic diversity both in the executive and other senior positions in government. Post-election stability depends not only on the credibility of the polls but also on the winning party’s inclusion of Kenyans from diverse ethnic groups in the government of the day. In the long term, a parliamentary system could also help solve Kenya’s political crisis.

To stop the harmful political instability that follows each election cycle, Kenya also needs leaders who respect the constitution and are committed to detribalizing the elections and the government structure. This will create a sense of nationhood among Kenyans. Without these changes, even free and credible elections will have ethnic disputes that could cost lives and property.

If ethnicity and political inclusion are not addressed, Kenya could well join Africa’s growing list of unstable states. Expectations are high that the national dialogue team can avoid this slippery slope by finding a solution to the country’s political and governance challenges.

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Guyo Chepe Turi, Research Officer, Peace and Security Governance in East Africa, Nairobi Institute of Security Studies (ISS)

(This article was first published by ISS Today, a distribution partner of Premium Times. We have your permission to republish).

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