Psephology Rocks: Kenya Do It Again?

Kenya had a Presidential election last month and it went rather better than it did ten years ago, when the results were met with a convulsion of violence that shook the country and left 1,500 dead in its wake. There was a sense of nervous anticipation in the run up to these elections and people were hoping there would a peaceful process this time around and by and large. It appeared that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won re-election, except plot twist! Kenya's high court annulled the election results and called for a do-over.

Kenyatta, to his credit has stated that he disagreed with the ruling, but said he would respect the decision and called upon everyone else to do the same and remain calm. Of course, he's also making noises about 'fixing' the court, so assuming there's not a twist or two left in this story, Kenya's high court might be in for a bumpy ride, assuming Kenyatta wins his do over.

But step back a second! How does it all work in Kenya?

Kenya actually has a Presidential system I sort of like- the Tribal divisions and ethnic conflict that flares up with sometimes brutal results aside, on paper, it seems sensible. It's your basic two round system- but with a twist. In order to win in the first round, a candidate must win over 50% of the vote and 25% in at least 24 out of the 47 counties in Kenya.

The National Assembly also has some twists that balance out nicely. The 337 seats are elected by two methods- 290 use the traditional, first past the post, single member constituency model. (Essentially what we have here, one representative per district, most votes wins.) And they reserve the remain 47 for women- who are elected on single member constituencies based on the 47 counties in Kenya itself. The Senate uses the same model for 47 of it's seats and then the remain 16 get assigned for women, two for youth and two for disabled folks depending on the share of the vote.

Peeps, on paper: I really like this.

Think about it- what's the biggest obstacle to getting rid of the Electoral college in America today- other than the fact it would take a Constitutional amendment? It would concentrate power on the coasts at the expense of a large number of states in the middle. Add a twist like Kenya has and mandate 50% + and suddenly you make the number of states won just as important as the percentage of the popular vote. It's not about rural/urban or coast/no coast, it's about do you have enough support across the country as a whole. I dig that.

Doing a cursory glance through the history of post-independence Kenya and I think the most charitable verdict you could give them is that they've done okay with this whole 'democracy' business. First President Jomo Kenyatta gave way to President Daniel Arap Moi, who ran Kenya for about a quarter century give or take and did so for a large portion of the time as a pretty authoritarian, repressive type. Forced by the end of the Cold War to give way on Constitutional reforms, he won elections in 1992 and 1997 which were marred by violence on both sides. Since then, there have been transitions of power between Moi and his successor Mwai Kibaki and now again to the 4th President of Kenya (and current incumbent) Uhuru Kenyatta. I'm not an expert, but I think transitions are a good habit to get into and respecting the judiciary is also a good habit to get into, from a big picture, 'healthy democracy' point of view. If they can lessen the political violence that seems to go along with these elections far too often, I'd say Kenya might have a good thing going for itself.

(It also has a relatively small history of military intervention. Arap Moi might have been a prototypical 'Big Man' but I could only find mention of one coup attempt and that was all the way back in 1982 and didn't go anywhere. There's also a tribal aspect to all of this that I know some stuff about, (there's Luo, Kikuyu and Kalenjin) but not enough to really comment here without making myself look like an idiot. But keep that in mind if you're reading news articles about Kenya's do-over next month- there's more fault lines than just parties at work there.)

The nuts and bolts of their Presidential system aside (there really is a lot to like about it on paper, at least) it's worth underlining what a big deal this court ruling is. No court anywhere in Africa has taken a step like this- and had their decision, at least so far, respected by all sides. It's not over yet, of course- but one thing I didn't pick up on, but The American Interest apparently did was that Former Secretary of State John Kerry- who was leading the Carter Center's observer mission of these elections congratulated Kenya on a "great job" on a "free, fair and credible poll."


There's a few twists and turned left before the October 17th elections in this story and I know the American media does a horrible job of covering African news and elections, because whatever President Trump just tweeted is far more interesting to CNN, but this is worth keeping an eye on. Especially if the 'do-over' results in a different outcome. Will President Kenyatta respect the results if they don't go his way a second time? Will Raila Odinga? What if the second poll is just as messed up as the first one- does the Supreme Court say, 'we'll keep doing this, fellas, until you get it right, damn it?'

I don't know- but you should be paying attention.


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