On 09 August 2022, Kenya will be hosting its much-anticipated general elections that will pit two political heavyweights against each other; former Prime Minister Raila Odinga running on the Azimio La Umoja platform and current Deputy President William Ruto running on the Kenya Kwanza Alliance. The very mention of elections in Kenya, however, typically generates concern among businesses, as the inter-ethnic and political violence that played out in 2007 has cast a long shadow on the democratic process.
It should be stated upfront that a replica of that vote is not anticipated this year. Kenya has taken significant strides in ensuring a more peaceful process that respects the rule of law. The 2010 Constitution serves as a cornerstone in this regard, as it limits the power of the presidency by requiring a 50%+1 threshold to win the vote. However, the elections themselves are not without risk, as certain security threats tend to (re-)emerge in the lead up to, during and after the vote, regardless of the steps that have been taken and measures implemented.
Castor Vali’s Security Information Services (SIS) department regularly tracks such political and security incidents and trends across the country. With just over four months left to the vote, the following threats are already underway:
- Crime: One of the unique features of the Kenyan elections concerns the escalation in gang-related activity in urban centres, such as Nairobi and Mombasa, among others. While crime is an ongoing issue across these centres throughout the year, gangs typically rise in prominence in the lead up to the vote, often fuelled by their alliance with local politicians looking to contest the elections. Indeed, in certain areas of the country, gangs are for hire by political players to use to intimidate locals to vote in a particular way. This, in turn, tends to lead to a proliferation in other crimes as these gangs are able to operate with impunity during these periods. Crimes that typically escalate in the weeks and months out to the vote include armed robberies and extortion. With over 40 and 26 gangs in Nairobi and Mombasa respectively, these two cities remain the epicentre of such crimes and an uptick has already been recorded.
- Civil Unrest: No elections are free from a higher incidence of civil unrest. However, this time around, the Kenyan elections are taking place in a post-COVID environment in which the average Kenyan is facing a reduced standard of living amid ongoing socio-economic pressures. This situation has only been exacerbated this year with the rise in global commodity prices following the Russia-Ukraine war. The cost of a typical basket of food items has risen by around 20% over the last year alone, for example, while a government induced fuel subsidy that has cushioned the public looks set to be rolled back amid rising government debt (estimated at around 69.7%). Kenyans have already taken to the streets to demand change, with a notable increase in such activity recorded in the first three months of this year. Naturally, as the capital, Nairobi remains a hotspot in this regard and further unrest and associated disruptions should be expected.
- Intercommunal and political violence: The long shadow of 2007 always raises concerns around inter-communal and political violence around Kenyan elections, as contestation of that vote pitted 40 tribes against one ethnic grouping, the Kikuyu, following the hasty swearing in of former president Mwai Kibaki (a Kikuyu himself). The violence led to the deaths of 1,300 people and the displacement of as many as 600,000 individuals. While a repeat of that vote is highly unlikely in Kenya in 2022, pockets of violence nevertheless tend to erupt around all electioneering periods; during the 2013 and 2017 elections, for example, allegations of voter fraud by Odinga (a Luo) against incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta (a Kikuyu) raised tensions that resulted in violence in Odinga strongholds, such as in Kibera in Nairobi, as electorates demanded justice for Odinga. Similar pockets of violence are likely to erupt this year, as a new truce between President Kenyatta and Odinga has led to allegations of betrayal by the ethnic community of Deputy President Ruto (a Kalenjin). A number of other aggravating factors, including the use of hate speech by both camps and a lack of trust in government institutions, have the potential to exacerbate this threat. Hotspots will comprise parts of the North, West and Central Rift Valley Region as well as the north-eastern region although informal settlements near major urban centres and along the coast remain hotbeds as well.
- Militancy: 2022 kicked off with a record number of attacks by Islamist militants in Kenya, reaching 31 incidents in the first quarter alone, all of which were concentrated in Lamu and the north-eastern region. While Castor Vali maintains that the threat continues to remain concentrated in these areas, with the last major incident in Nairobi recorded in 2019, the hosting of national elections would naturally present an attractive opportunity for extremists to expand their assaults. Indicative of this escalation in threat, the beginning of this year was characterised by warnings by foreign governments, including the US, France and European Union, of a possible attack in Nairobi, in particular. While the threat may not be unique to an election period, questions have nevertheless been raised over whether security forces will face overstretch over the coming months as they seek to monitor and manage a variety of rising security threats across the country – a vulnerability that could be exploited by all threat actors.
To support our clients in tracking, forecasting, and mitigating the above risks during this election period, Castor Vali has developed a variety of Election Preparedness Tools, including intelligence subscription packages and in-house training.
To read more about our products and services ahead of this historic vote, see our Kenya Election Monitoring and Risk Management Support services here.