SEATTLE — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in Nairobi for the first leg of a multinational counterterrorism tour in August, announced plans to invest upwards of $25 million in Kenyan election operations.
The aid package, in the spirit of facilitating transparency and equity during Kenya’s upcoming 2017 election, will be funneled into civic education initiatives. It also represents a continuation of warming U.S.-Kenyan relations.
As Somali al-Shabab militants continue to stage terror attacks in Kenya – which flanks Somalia’s southern border – keeping the U.S. on as a partner in security and development is of crucial interest to Kenyan authorities.
The interest is mutual. The results of the next election cycle could have major consequences for not only the Kenyan people and their neighbors in Somalia and South Sudan, but virtually every nation facing the front lines of global terrorism.
Kerry delivered the election aid announcement shortly after meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to talk through the conflicts and agitators belying Kenyan citizens.
The U.S. Secretary of State also met with Kenyan opposition leaders in order to rally their support for electoral reform proposals that are currently on the floor of the National Assembly. Underlying the bipartisan itinerary was the stark reality that true electoral reform in Kenya, election aid notwithstanding, requires collaboration between government and opposition.
But a history of fierce party lines, combined with the pressures of today’s geopolitical environment, has all stakeholders proceeding with caution.
Kenya’s last election took place in 2013. The post-election landscape that year, though not without its thorns, was still a far cry from the violence that punctuated the 2007 election of Mwai Kibaki. A nightmarish chain of events left hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
In the tragedy’s wake, a mediation process created an Independent Commission on the Review of the 2007 Election (IREC) to identify and probe holes in the electoral pipeline.
The IREC delved into a culture of electoral abuse “so materially defective” and tangled up in itself that prognosis, and thereby prescription, became a wholesale affair.
And that’s precisely how electoral reforms played out – beginning with the disbandment of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) and culminating in a new constitution. Backed by 67 percent of a referendum vote, the 2010 Constitution of Kenya redefined the country’s electoral map by abdicating a share of governmental power to county assemblies.
When the 2013 election tested the durability of the new electoral safeguards, there were obstacles aplenty. Technology erred, transparency measures faltered and accusations of a rigged game rang loud and clear.
Even so, over the span of six days a record-breaking 80 percent of registered voters had taken to the polling places to elect, with a slight margin and without bloodshed, President Uhuru Kenyatta.
President Kenyatta crossed paths with President Obama himself last year, when Kenya and the U.S. played co-hosts to the 6th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).
Held in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time, the forum and showcase brought President Obama to Nairobi. The visit marked another first – the first time a sitting American president had traveled to Kenya.
Four days of civil engagement and diplomatic politicking saw the establishment of many development-oriented initiatives, including a joint commitment between the Kenyan and U.S. governments to promote good governance and anti-corruption efforts in Kenya.
The promotion of diplomatic values staunchly backdropped scenes of bilateral cooperation, an agenda the President played up in his remarks to the Kenyan people.
For the President, the guiding principles to which Kenyans must look are clear: “strong democratic governance; development that provides opportunity for all people and not just some; [and]a sense of national identity that rejects conflict for a future of peace and reconciliation.”
President Obama, during a phone call that took place between President Kenyatta and himself earlier this year, reiterated his belief in maintaining the integrity of U.S.-Kenyan relations as a defense against global terrorism.
With imminent changes in leadership looking to shake up the political arenas of both countries, it’s clear that much is riding on the political partnership between U.S. and Kenya. What’s less clear is whether the latest round of election aid is enough to protect democracy when Kenyans elect their next president.
– Josephine Gurch