Kenya elects president and public officials in landmark vote

04 Mar 2013

image A participant casts her ballot at a mock elections training carried out in Nyeri county by the Nyeri Social Forum. (Photo: UNDP Kenya/Ricardo Gangale)

Kenyans headed to the polls on March 4th to elect a new president and a host of local and regional representatives in an election seen as critical for the country’s nation-building effort.

“My sincere hope is that Kenyans will come out in large numbers to participate in the elections peacefully. If successful, these elections will consolidate the impressive democratic gains the country has made and put Kenya on a path of unity, peace, stability and growth,” said Modibo Touré, UNDP Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator, a.i. Kenya.

In December 2007, disputed polls descended into violence, causing over 1,300 deaths and displacing around 600,000 people.

Following the clashes, the country set off a vast reform agenda, starting with work on a modern constitution that would facilitate national cohesion and dramatically increase people’s participation in decision-making.

Approved by the Kenyan people in 2010, the constitution has led to the creation of new institutions and administrative units, including 47 counties, a Supreme Court and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), charged with organizing the current ballot. Among other measures, the document also includes provisions for quotas of women in parliament, disclosure of public service salaries and a citizens’ Bill of Rights.

This year’s elections are the first under the new constitution and citizens will cast six ballots at once, electing a president, but also senators, governors, members of the lower house, councilors and women’s representatives.

Having helped to organize the constitutional referendum, UNDP is managing a USD 36 million electoral basket fund and providing technical support to the new electoral commission, including through training of 240,000 polling officials.

UNDP also helped Kenyan authorities to carry out a vast voter outreach campaign, dispatching 2,900 volunteers and 5,000 public service vehicles across the country to disseminate voter information and messages of peace to an estimated 1.5 million people every day, many of them young people.

Key meetings were held with presidential candidates and their parties, IEBC, police, members of the judiciary and interfaith groups to facilitate dialogue and ensure acceptance of the results.

UNDP is also supporting Uwiano (Kiswahili for “cohesion”), an early warning system using local peace representatives and a text messaging system that has allowed people to report security incidents in their communities. In the constitutional referendum of 2010, Uwiano received about 20,000 SMS messages, stopping a total of 122 incidents before and during the vote.

Since 2008, through a programme called Amkeni Wakenya, UNDP has also been promoting people’s civic engagement, helping marginalized groups access and participate in the administration of justice, enhancing awareness of the new devolved institutions and implement projects in support of human rights.

UNDP trained 350 women from seven rural regions of Kenya in leadership skills, preparing them for elective positions at national and county levels. In addition, the organization supported the establishment of a non-partisan Women’s Situation Room. Composed of elders, students, media and civil society groups, the situation room will disseminate messages of peace in addition to monitoring possible incidents.