by Raphael Obonyo*
The March 4, 2013 elections in Kenya will tell us something about how democracy is working, or not working in Africa. Will the elections in Kenya help the country to flourish or degenerate to violence as witnessed in 2007-08 general elections after the disputed presidential results?
Indeed, the coming elections are a litmus test for Kenya’s democracy. There are 14.3 million registered voters expected to take part in the elections. Voters will elect the president, governors, senator, women and county representatives and members of parliament.
A winner in the presidential election must get 50 +1 percent of the total number of votes cast. According to pollster, a runoff is likely, as the two leading presidential candidates, Raila Odinga of Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), and Uhuru Kenyatta of Jubillee Coalition are projected to get 46 and 44 percent of the votes respectively.
These elections are critical as the stakes are high particularly for the two leading coalitions and the country at large.
There are a number of factors that are likely influence the decisions of Kenyan voters. I would like to look at six.
|A woman walks past a message of peace in Kibera slum in the capital Nairobi. Photo by REUTERS/Noor Khamis/AJStream’s Flickr|
Implementation of the new constitution is crucial. In 2010, Kenyans passed by an overwhelming majority a new constitution. Implementation of the new constitution is ongoing. Having tasted some benefits of the new constitution, some Kenyans are likely to vote for leaders who will not disrupt implementation of the constitution.
This election is also about job creation. The unemployment rate in Kenya is at 40%. Sadly, seven out of ten jobless people are youth. No doubt, young people are likely to consider leaders who can address the worrying levels of unemployment in the country. It is worth noting that about 70% of the registered voters are young people between the ages 18-35 years.
The question of land has dominated the elections campaign. Land is an important factor of production as Kenya’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture. However, land remains inaccessible to a majority of Kenyans. It has also been a cause of conflict and election violence in parts of the country- including the Rift valley and the coast.
But perhaps the issue that shaped this election is the case that is pending at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Jubilee Coalition’s presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are among four Kenyans indicted by the ICC for alleged involvement in the 2007-08 post-election violence.
Some countries have indicated that they would reconsider their association with Kenya if the duo is elected. But the Jubilee coalition have vigorously defended the duo, who claim that charges brought against them at the ICC are politically motivated to lock them out of the contest.
Other than the preceding issues, a significant number of voters are likely to pay allegiance to their ethnic groups. Politicians have been stoking the fires of negative ethnicity as they seek to mobilise for votes. Although unfortunate, it is real that politicians use ethnic cards as an easy way to marshal votes. In this case, voters will simply vote along tribal lines without making any consideration.
Additionally, voters are likely to remain loyal to their political parties. As such voters will choose candidates that belong to their parties without looking at their merits. Considering the factors in play, everyone will be watching to see the choices that voters will make. It is difficult to predict how the election will turn out. But there is guarded optimism that elections in Kenya will consolidate the country’s democracy. Most important, elections will not undermine human rights.
Raphael Obonyo is External Advisor to the United Nations Habitat’s Youth Advisory Board. He is widely published on issues of public policy, governance, development and youth among other topics. His articles have appeared in print in Daily Nations Kenya, The Standard Kenya, Business Daily Kenya, The Star Kenya and All Africa.
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