Devolution & Beyond: Kenya’s Electoral Politics Journal of Eastern African Studies

Journal of Eastern African Studies

Kenya’s elections have proved no less heavily contested in 2017 than in previous years. And as in the past, the elections have provided an entry point for a sustained examination of politics in Kenya in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, with a guest edited collection in the works. Our previous special issues on Kenya’s politics (‘Election Fever: Kenya's Crisis’ in 2008 and ‘Kenya's 2013 elections: The triumph of democracy?’ in 2014) examined important shifts and continuities. As the impacts of the polls on August 8 become clearer, JEAS’s editors wanted to highlight a selection of articles, which appear particularly salient, in this virtual special issue.

These elections have produced a range of extremely significant outcomes, reaching far beyond the contest for the presidency. However, international attention is predictably and understandably focused on the result of the presidential race, which has been disputed by four-time hopeful Raila Odinga, who is challenging the outcome in the Supreme Court. Donors and observers have the precedent of the early 2008 post-election violence in mind. We have included John Githongo’s prescient analysis in 2008 of the myths underlying Kenya’s political dilemma. Those elections also proved a key turning point in the push for constitutional reform, and in particular devolution. We also included the comments of Yash Ghai, who previously served as Chairperson Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, and Chair of the National Constitutional (‘Bomas’) Conference, on the outlook for and implications of devolution. In many ways, this year’s elections have served as a ‘correction’ for politicians who miscalculated the salience and influence of the range of new offices created under the 2010 constitution and contested for the first time in the 2013 elections.

As noted by Hannah Waddilove in a recent commentary on ‘African Arguments’, for many Kenyans, the focus when results were announced earlier this month was on local offices, rather than the presidency: some 24 of 47 governors look set to lose their seats, as have 62% of MPs and most members of county assemblies – all highly competitive seats.  Nic Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch and Justin Willis have examined the broad contours of the 2013 polls in their introductory article from the 2014 special issue, which should provide an interesting benchmark for analysis of this year’s results. We have also included papers from the 2014 special issue which focused on the results in different parts of the country, including Lynch’s analysis of the Jubilee Alliance in the Rift Valley, Willis and Ngala Chome’s paper on the dynamics of marginalization and participation in Kenya’s Coast region, and Neil Carrier and Hassan Kochore’s examination of ethnic calculus and alliance building in two parts of Kenya’s north (Marsabit and Mandera, where exclusionary outcomes led to conflict for more than year after the elections). Finally, turning back to the presidential race, our virtual issue concludes with John Harrington and Ambreena Manji’s analysis of Odinga’s Supreme Court challenge of the 2013 results.