Kenya’s past, present and future: Words of caution and grounds for optimism

March 14, 2013

By Holly Young

Panelists debate the implications of Kenya's recent election results.

Panelists debate the implications of Kenya’s recent election results.

The event on the 11 March at the Frontline Club was a panel debate analysing the previous week’s much anticipated election results in Kenya. The panel, chaired by Audrey Brown, producer and presenter on BBC Focus on Africa and Network Africa, examined the implications of Uhuru Kenyatta election as Kenya’s new President, despite being wanted by the International Criminal Court. Kenya’s past and future played a central part in the evening as panelists and audience decoded the recent election results under the shadow of its 2007 post-election violence, and asked ‘what is going to happen next?’

The evening began with a stern warning from panelist Mathias Muindi, currently editor with the BBC Monitoring office in Nairobi.

“The Kenyan story has just begun…it is one which continues to confound…one of my biggest fears is that the war has just been postponed to another time.”

Echoing this caution, panelist Daniel Branch, associate professor of African history at the University of Warwick, commented on the narrative emerging around the recent election process:

“On the one hand I breathed a huge sigh of relief this week that things didn’t go badly. On the other hand I think there has been an excessive haste to declare the election a good process and to ignore significant problems with Kenya’s institutions.”

Natznet Tesfay head of Africa Forecasting at Exclusive Analysis Ltd, expanded on this point, arguing that the reaction of the judiciary would be pivotal.

“One important institution which will truly tested over the coming weeks is the judiciary, specifically the supreme court. You have now had judicial reform and you’ve also had policies whereby you can file a petition within seven days of the announced results. The panel has unanimously agreed that it is likely to be done by Raila Odinga and possibly other candidates. Now this is likely to be a true test of where the government is going and to see whether the judiciary has matured enough to make this decision. However, the ICC will still be the biggest aggravator in the situation going forward.”

The panel agreed that beneath the legalities of the recent election lay more fundamental problems with serious implications for Kenya’s future.

“What Kenyans have elected is a divided central government”, Branch argued. “They don’t agree on the most fundamental issue to Kenya which is devolution. It is very easy to see an argument coming up about distribution of resources, about oil and gas, and about major development projects. The question is, who is going to reap the rewards? This really gets to the heart of what politics in this country is going to be like when you take the ICC out of the picture.”

The evening concluded with a question from the audience about whether there was space for hope in Kenya’s future. Branch cited the importance of the fundamental, and growing, problem of inequality in the country’s future. Muindi and Tesfay took a more positive line, with the latter citing the growth of internet penetration, a youthful population and a synergy coming from the ground up as serious basis for optimism.

Watch the full debate here: