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Kenya’s election 2017 – ‘It was the tribe, stupid!’

The phrase “It’s the economy, stupid!” has become enshrined in election campaigning folklore. Supposedly it was put up on the wall (although accounts vary) of the Democrat’s campaign headquarters by one of Bill Clinton’s campaign strategists, James Carville, in the 1992 US presidential election to keep his campaign team focused on the central issue of the campaign. Clinton won, ousting President George H. W. Bush from office.

Fifty-four years after independence in the sixth national election since multi-party politics was established (or re-established) in Kenya in 1992, the issue that decided the 2017 elections in Kenya was?… “It was the tribe, stupid!”

Voice of America study

A study carried out by the Voice of America (VOA) comparing ballot returns from the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and demographic data derived from census returns and a study by the World Bank, has shown that once again Kenyans voted along ethnic or tribal lines to give Uhuru Kenyatta (assuming the Supreme Court decision upholds the result) a second term in office.

That Kenya voted along the fault lines of its some 70 ethnic groups will not come as a great surprise to many but the predominance of voting by tribe in the 2017 elections surely says something about how the country has progressed, or not, in over five decades of self-rule.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the VOA study found, won in all of the 12 counties where the Kikuyu tribe (from which Mr Kenyatta hails), or the Kalenjin (the ethnic group of Kenyatta’s vice-presidential candidate William Ruto) predominated.

Main opposition rival Raila Odinga, likewise, won in all of the eight counties where the Luos (Mr Odinga’s tribe), or where the Luhya’s (the tribe of origin of Musalia Mudavadi, Odinga’s vice-presidential running mate), were in the majority.

Similarly, Kenyatta’s Jubilee Alliance won decisively at the provincial level (the elections for Senators, Governors and Members of the National Assembly) in Central and North Eastern provinces where his ethnic support was concentrated, and in 12 out of the 14 counties in Rift Valley province (the home of vice-presidential running mate William Ruto)

Odinga’s National Super Alliance (Nasa), meanwhile, won decisively in the Coast and Nairobi provinces and won in five of the six counties of Nyanza province, the home of the Luos and Luhyas.

The VOA study seems to suggest some surprise that the voting in Kenya’s Eastern province was split but it will come as little surprise to Kenyans that the Kamba, Embu and Meru living around Mount Kenya and ethnic groups related to Mr Kenyatta’s Kikuyu, gave him and his alliance overwhelming support.

So there we are, 54 years after independence, Kenyans voted along ethnic lines and the two leading presidential candidates were Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, just as their fathers, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Odinga, had fought it out in 1964.

“[Kenya’s] politics now remain really in the grip of ethnic [and] oligarchic families”, said Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group during the election.

The French have a phrase for it: “Plus ca change!”



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