AD201: Reconciliation in Kenya: Partisan differences and common ground

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Mikhail Moosa

After a tense election period, a government crackdown on opposition supporters, and months of uncertainty, the leaders of Kenya’s two major political coalitions came together in March to announce an end to their bitter fight (Wanga, 2018). With their “Harambee House handshake,” President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga portrayed their mutual commitment to bridging a partisan divide that had produced an acrimonious campaign, an annulled election, a repeat election boycotted by the opposition, presidential swearing-in ceremonies for both rivals, and more than 100 deaths and hundreds of arrests (Nyabola, 2017; Kisika, 2017; Wamai, 2018; International Crisis Group, 2018). 

Even as many observers welcomed its calming effect, many are wondering how the two men’s unprecedented diplomacy could translate into a sustained national reconciliation (Kahura, 2018; Cheeseman, 2018; Wanjohi, 2018).

The most recent Afrobarometer survey data from Kenya, collected in September-October 2016, shed some light on differences that have divided the support bases of the ruling Jubilee Alliance and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) since before the 2017 elections. Different perceptions on the country’s overall direction and level of democracy, the economy, and the president’s performance represent potential challenges to successful realization of the Kenyatta-Odinga agreement.

However, the data also point to some common ground on key issues that may serve as a starting point for reconciliation, including shared support for democracy and presidential accountability and agreement on the main problems facing the country.