Background on the presidential election: There are five major tribes in Kenya and a presidential aspirant (as they call candidates here in Kenya) must come from one of these five tribes.

Tribe Percentage
Kikuyu 17.2%
Luhya 13.8%
Kalenjin 12.9%
Luo 10.5%
Kamba 10.1%
Sub-total 64.5%
39 other tribes 35.5%

The first point to note is that no one or even two tribes has close to a majority. In order to win many votes are needed from other tribes. Another aspect is that some “tribes” are more cohesive than others. The concept of “Luhya” and “Kalenjin” was developed in the 1940’s to unite sub-tribes which spoke similar languages. So the Luhya consist of 16 sub-tribes including the Bukusu and Maragoli. The Kalenjins include the Kipsigis, Nandi, and the Sabaot with whom we work on Mt. Elgon. The Kamba are also split into numerous factions. On the other hand the Kikuyu and Luo are more united so that they can expect an extremely high percentage (up to 99% in some places) of their tribe to vote for their tribal “king man.”

The incumbents, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, on poster last year announcing the launching of their new consolidated political party, Jubilee Party. Tuko pamoja means “we are together.”

The current president/deputy president consists of Uhuru Kenyatta (Kikuyu) and William Ruto (Kalenjin, Nandi). These two tribes comprise 30.1% of the population. All presidents of Kenya for the last 54 years since independence from Britain in 1963 have been either Kikuyu or Kalenjin. This often leads to the statement that it is “our” (meaning the “king man” from one of the other tribes) turn in the presidency. For this election these two tribes have consolidated their supporting parties to one larger party call Jubilee Party. Since there is a two term limit in the Kenyan constitution, if Uhuru Kenyatta is reelected, he will not be able to run again. The plan is that Deputy President William Ruto will then become president for the following two terms of five years each, totaling ten more years.

The challengers from the National Super Alliance (NASA) at a rally. From left Raila Odinga, presidential candidate, Musalia Mudavadi, Isaac Ruto, Moses Wetangula, and Kilonzo Musyoka, deputy presidential candidate.

The only way that an opponent can overturn the Kikuyu/Kalenjin presidency is to unite in one coalition. Musalia Mudavadi (Luhya, Maragoli, and a Quaker) tried to “go it alone” in the 2013 election and received only 4% of the vote – the Luo Raila Odinga actually received more Luhya votes than he did. As a result for this election Mudavadi spearheaded a coalition where, unlike the united Jubilee party, the various tribal parties would remain intact. The coalition is called NASA, National Super Alliance. Raila Odinga (Luo) will again run as presidential candidate with Kalonzo Musyoka (Kamba) as deputy president. This was the same line up as the 2013 election that lost that election. But they will be supported by Musalia Mudavadi (Luhya, Maragoli) and Moses Wetangula (Luhya, Bukusu) – the two will be given prominent positions in the government should NASA win. They then have enticed Isaac Ruto (Kalenjin, Kipsigis, no relation to William Ruto and governor of Bomet County) to join the coalition since he was on the “outs” with William Ruto. One of the deciding factors of this election will be if Isaac Ruto can bring a significant number of the Kipsigis voters (the largest Kalenjin subtribe) to vote for NASA. If he succeeds, it will be a large plus for NASA and, if he fails, it will be a large plus for Jubilee.

There is perhaps one encouraging change from the 2013 election. In that election presidential candidates concentrated their campaigning in their strongholds and in that one-third of the population in the “up-for-grabs” tribes. Rarely did they campaign in the strongholds of their opponents. This time the candidates are campaigning not only in their strongholds and the swing areas but more important in the strongholds of their opponents – NASA has campaigned in Kukuyuland and Jubilee has been in Kisumu. Lugari constituency where I live is a NASA stronghold, but none-the-less in June William Ruto of Jubilee campaigned in Lumakanda – my grandchildren were so excited to see all the helicopters buzzing around. A person who attended the rally told me that when Ruto chanted “Jubilee” the crowd answered back “NASA.” Campaigning in the opponent’s stronghold can lead to a very poor reception, but clearly the rewards are great. If a candidate can move even a few percentage of voters from the opponent’s column to his column, this could make a significance difference in the outcome of the election. After the election is over, I’ll let you know how successful this was.

The Luhya area is a NASA stronghold. Jubilee has targeted Mumias as a possible area that they can flip from NASA to Jubilee. This has already led to violence. Transforming Communities for Social Change considers Mumias to be one of the hotspots where it is concentrating its resources by developing an extensive citizen reporter network and conducting workshops.

In order to win election for president/deputy president, the winner must get 50% +1 of the vote and at least 25% of the vote in half the counties. Since the six minor candidates will probably get 1% of the vote or less, there is unlikely to be a run-off election. The threshold of at least 25% of the vote in half the counties is so low that I can’t conceive of how a person can get more than 50% of the vote nationwide and at the same time get less than 25% in half the counties. In the last election which was very close Uhuru/Ruto got 25% or more of the vote in 72% of the counties.

Unlike the United States, election day in Kenya is a holiday. Already over a week ago travel to western Kenya from Nairobi was fully booked. On the one hand people have registered to vote in their home area where they usually have a plot of land and family and on the other hand they are escaping possible violence to be more secure in their home tribal area. This increases the tribal homogeneity of voting in Kenya.

On Wednesday I plan on sending out a Report on the other five local elections which will also happen on August 8.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.


David Zarembka

Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)

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