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Troubling politics in Kenya

At the beginning of September, Kenya’s supreme court ruled the recent election “invalid, null and void”. Of course, a lot of Kenyans and external observers have had similar sentiments for years, but this time the words came from an authority with the power to order a second election.

The court’s decision was greeted with celebration by many, not just in Kenya, but also across Africa as a whole. There is hope that this could be a watershed moment for Kenya; marginalised regions may have their voices heard, the systematic corruption which has held Kenya back may finally be eroded and Kenyans can unite behind a fair and just democratic system.

However, this hope is tapered by the fear of what the next few months could hold. The initial election was praised as being peaceful; this was an election, which featured an election official being found tortured and murdered and at least 24 people being killed in post-election violence. Unfortunately, compared to the post-election violence suffered in 2007-8 when as many as 1,500 people were killed and 600,000 displaced, this actually was a relatively peaceful election.

Some that I have spoken to explain that there has been a sense of apathy surrounding recent elections. Their message being that many people believe that they are rigged, but don’t believe that they can do anything to overcome that and so ‘keep their heads down’. The ruling from the supreme court has given hope to those who were previously apathetic towards politics, so there is concern of what will occur should the re-run election not go in their favour.

To exacerbate the situation further, it is difficult to know when such a similar opportunity would present itself to those unhappy with the current government. The leader of the opposition said that the August election would be his last. Meanwhile, the ruling party is seeking to bring in legislation that would make it almost impossible for the courts to overturn an election result. The stakes are high.

Kenya is currently in a state of inertia. Election years are often disruptive to the country’s performance; with GDP falling around most elections. However, this is an extreme situation, with the election process threatening to take many more months. The second election is currently scheduled to be held in October, though the leader of the opposition has speculated that he may not stand in the second election as he’s sceptical as to whether it will be free and fair.

This state of limbo is causing challenges for COCO and the communities we are working with. Procuring materials has been problematic and some people are hesitant about travelling during this tense period which disrupts work further. Given that COCO works in the most marginalised communities, we are generally working in areas which are most hit by disruption. To offset the disruption we’re currently having to plan even further in advance than we would normally and we are having to focus our efforts on only the most important work for the time being.

Shortly, the attention of the global media will shift back to Kenya as it holds its second election of the year. I’m sure you will join us in hoping that this passes peacefully and that, in the future, we can look back upon this period of time knowing that it resulted in a positive outcome for the people of Kenya.

- Bradley French, Overseas Operations Manager

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