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Kenyans Voted Along Ethnic, Geographic Lines to Re-elect Kenyatta


Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga, center, accompanied by party official Kalonzo Musyoka, right, announces they will challenge the results of last week's presidential election in the Supreme Court and wage a campaign of "civil disobedience," at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, Aug. 16, 2017.

Kenyans voted mainly along ethnic and geographic lines to give President Uhuru Kenyatta a second term in office, according to election data analyzed by VOA.

Over the weekend, the country's Elections Observation Group deemed the Aug. 8 vote valid and reiterated Kenyatta's victory, despite the opposition's rejection of the outcome and allegations of vote rigging. The U.S. State Department also supported the results of the election.

To understand how the country voted, VOA looked at ballot tallies provided by Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, along with demographic data from census reports and the World Bank.

Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the crowd after the announcement in the presidential race at the Centre in Bomas, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug.11, 2017.
Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the crowd after the announcement in the presidential race at the Centre in Bomas, Nairobi, Kenya, Aug.11, 2017.

According to the official results, Kenyatta won the popular vote by about 10 percent, with 54 percent of the overall vote.

However, tallies at the county level reveal deep divisions across Kenya.

Kenyatta and his chief rival, opposition leader Raila Odinga, won 27 of 47 counties by a margin of at least 80 percent. Together, these counties account for 59 percent of the country's population.

Ethnic, regional divisions

Kenya's diverse ethnic composition has long influenced the country's politics. Over 70 ethnic groups are in Kenya, with the largest group, the Kikuyu, accounting for about 20 percent of the population.

Kenyatta won all 12 counties where the Kalenjin or Kikuyu are the predominant ethnic groups. He belongs to the Kikuyu ethnic group and, in the six counties where they are the main group, received 96 percent of the vote.

The same voting patterns held for the opposition party. Odinga won all eight counties where the Luhya or Luo are the main groups. He belongs to the Luo ethnic group and received 95 percent of the vote in the four counties where they are predominant.

Similar differences were evident at the provincial level. Kenyatta swept the Central and North Eastern provinces. Odinga swept Coast and Nairobi provinces. Kenyatta won 12 of the 14 counties in Rift Valley province, and Odinga won five of the six counties in Nyanza province.

Only Eastern province was roughly split, with Kenyatta winning five counties and Odinga winning three.

Opposition challenge

Odinga said Wednesday that, contrary to its earlier statements, the opposition will challenge the election outcome in the Supreme Court.

He questioned the voting results given by the electoral commission, saying it “shamelessly cooked” the numbers to reach a predetermined result.

No such criticism has come from international election observers. The head of the European Union delegation, Marietje Schaake, said last Friday that her team had seen no signs of “centralized or localized manipulation” of the voting process.

Historic tensions

Kenya's latest election is part of an ongoing, bitterly contested political saga. In 1964, Kenyatta's and Odinga's fathers vied for the country's presidency following independence.

“[Kenya’s] politics now remain really in the grip of a few ethnic, oligarchic families that essentially practice ‘machine’ politics,” Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told the Associated Press in the run up to the election.

In late 2007 and early 2008, ethnic violence resulted in over 1,000 deaths following Mwai Kibaki's victory over Odinga, who went on to serve as the country's prime minister until 2013. Amid the violence, over a half-million people were forcibly evicted from their homes.

Top-ranking officials, including Kenyatta and longtime ally William Ruto, were accused of crimes against humanity for allegedly orchestrating the violence. At the time, Kenyatta was deputy prime minister.

Upon winning the 2013 election, Kenyatta became the first head of state to face charges at the International Criminal Court. The charges were eventually dropped, with prosecutors alleging witness tampering.

Some deaths have also been reported around the country leading up to and following this year's vote.

Economic factors

There is also some evidence that Odinga was a more popular candidate in regions that haven't benefited equally from Kenya's economic growth, including those counties with more poverty and greater public health concerns.

Odinga won 12 of the 14 counties with the greatest portion of women and girls. He also won 11 of the 14 counties with the highest HIV infection rates for women and nine of the 14 counties with the highest HIV infection rates for men.

Kenyatta, meanwhile, won eight of the country's 10 most affluent counties and just four of its 10 poorest.

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