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Elections in Kenya and Ghana: what prospects for political and economic governance?

Time (GMT +00) 10:00 12:00

Gabrielle Lynch - Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Studies, The University of Warwick, UK
Kojo Asante -  University of Manchester and former Head of Programmes, Centre for Democratric Development, Ghana
Daudi Were - Director of Programmes, Ushahidi, Kenya (via VC)
Sead Alihodzic -  Senior Programme Officer, Electoral Processes, International IDEA, Sweden

Michela Wrong -
 Journalist and author, UK

Alison Evans - Director, ODI

Introduction by the Chair, Alison Evans.

Alison welcomed the audience to the first of a series of events looking at the relationships between electoral process and democratic governance, a work programme led by Alina Rocha Menocal from the Politics and Governance team at ODI. With the recent electoral outcomes in Kenya and several other countries in Africa, we have seen a number of peaceful transitions and other more challenging and violent processes. It is against this backdrop that we seek to understand the role that elections play in bringing about stable and effective political transitions and to discuss how they can be managed effectively.

Gabrielle Lynch – the 2013 Kenya elections
After the unprecedented violence surrounding the 2007 elections in Kenya, there was reasonable fear that the announcement of the results would stark similar violence. Nevertheless, the last election took place in a generally peaceful environment despite high stakes and intense campaigning. Not without problems surrounding voting, delays and technology, the results announced within a week are currently being disputed, with Odinga’s CORD having filed a judicial petition.

A combination of factors explain the contrast between 2007 and 2013:
- Many Kenyans were traumatized by the violence in 2007;
- The prevalent peace narrative by religious leaders and the Jubilee Alliance delegitimized critical reports and protest as inevitably leading to violence;
- Strong and visible security presence acted as a deterrent;
- Two key players are accused at the ICC. The presence of the ICC and its close monitoring of rallies and media acted as a deterrent against organized violence;
- Greater faith in key institutions (eg. The Kenyan Electoral Commission) meant more faith in the results, or called for legal channels to contest them.

Although the elections were undermined by clear errors and questionable results, there seems to be little evidence of systematic abuses by either side. The factor that stands out above all is the narrative of peace that developed around this election.

Moving forward:

- Many of the issues that led to violence in 2007 have not yet been addressed, therefore there is still cause for concern.
- With the new Constitution of 2010, it is likely that significant political battles will be fought by central and county level governments, at county level, and between locals and outsiders in cosmopolitan areas.
- Question marks remain around the lifespan of the Jubilee Alliance.

Kojo Asante : the case of Ghana

Despite similarities in good and bad socio-political and economic conditions in the two countries, historically elections in Ghana seem to have run more smoothly.

Ghana’s success is attributable to several factors:

- The Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana and its leadership role (although problems remain)
- Informal institutions: the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC).
- The character of ethnic mobilization and two-party political tradition: while it is a problem in Kenya, in Ghana ethnicity, although a salient feature, does not ensure wining.
- The Constitution promotes ethnic balance, meaning that the political strategy is to present themselves as a unified party.
- Support from donors: DfID was the biggest supporter in several thematic areas (eg. the EC, police, civil society, media, etc..) which have allowed these referees to be more professional and consistent, and institutionalize the space they occupy.
- The power of a peaceful narrative that mobilizes people to work together.
Lessons learned:
- Elections are still the game changer in democracies in transition: ill-managed elections can put off all the gains of the last years.
- Elections are a double edged sword: they confer legitimacy and stability but can also feed contradiction and corruption.

Daudi Were – the situation on the ground

The strength of the institutions lies in their independence from the executive branch. The EC and the police have demonstrated a certain level of independence. Likewise, the chief justice has been successful in showing independence from the judiciary.

The perceived violence is both around identity (what makes you a Kenyan?) but also around relevance. The challenge is trying to get Kenyans to think of elections as a permanent and recurring cycle, with election day being a mere point in this process.

Kenya has had a history of ethnic violence since its independence. Evidence shows improvements in recent years, with 2007 being, hopefully, just a blip.

Sead Alihodzic – the election process

Elections are processes composed of several building blocks, each of which can be taken hostage by violence. Elections take place in a context which may already be violent (ethnic, neighbourhood violence, terrorism, violence against women, poverty, organized crime, corruption....) therefore elections can exacerbate it or violence can spill over into the electoral process.  

Lessons learned:

- Improved electoral management and justice: great improvement, especially since 2007. Surveys show the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to be the most trusted Kenyan Institution. 
- Area to be improved: technical capacity (through experience)
- Improved electoral security: professional standards, responsiveness
- Area to be improved: capacity to understand elections
Improved infrastructure for peace: extent of state and non-state actors who have been engaged
- Area to be improved: sustainability

Michela Wrong - discussant
In effect, and contrary to the more nuanced views of other panellists, the IEBC’s reputation has een considerably undermined due to numerous problems preceding and on the day of the elections (including complications with biometric voting, the counting servers crashing, puzzling results given the opinion polls, amongst others). It may not yet be established that the 2013 elections have been peaceful until the result has been accepted. Thus complacency is not in order.

Going forward, the contestation of this election in court may set a dangerous precedent, signalling to voters that disputing results through the constitutional path may prove fruitless as the judiciary can’t change the status quo.

Open floor discussion and comments:
- How to instil a democratic culture: there has been a tendency to replace the workings of democracy with technology. Although it does address certain context-specific issues (eg. biometric voting prevents parties from turning strongholds into their properties), if there is no trust in the system, technology can only do so much.
- The strong peace narrative: the 2007 election showed people they were on the brink of war. Although many problems are associated with the IECB, in the interest of maintaining its credibility and securing peace, concerns regarding its performance were not sufficiently raised.  
- The Jubilee Alliance ensured that the two parties who were, as Michela Wrong put it, “at each other’s throats” in 2007 would unite, hence contributing largely to the reduced levels of violence observed this year. However questions relating to the sustainability of the alliance remain.
- A broader issue is that of ethnicity and its politisation: every country in Africa is multicultural. However, in some, ethnic politics have become more destructive than in others. In Ghana, winning coalitions have been created for elections, which don't depend on ethnic mobilization. Thus ethnicity has not been a winning factor. This seems not to be the case in Kenya. The question is how to demobilize ethnic politics.


Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa are now electoral democracies. Their ability to manage multi-party competition and peaceful exchange of power has varied widely, however. In the past year alone, peaceful transitions followed the deaths of sit­ting heads of states in countries including Malawi and Ethiopia, while relatively peaceful elections occurred in Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal, Sierra Leone and, for the first time, in Somalia. Other transitions have been less peaceful or democratic: the government in Guinea has continuously postponed parliamentary elections and Mali has experienced a military coup and bloodshed. What explains these different trajectories and can a country change track?

To probe this question, this event will look at two countries with many similar conditions but markedly different electoral trajectories. Ghana is seen as a ‘beacon of hope’ in Africa, following six consecutive elections, held at frequent and predictable intervals and with regular transfers of power between parties. By contrast, in Kenya, electoral competition has consistently fomented violence rather than channel conflict through peaceful means. All eyes are therefore on Kenya’s upcoming presidential election, its first general election since the violence of 2007/8.

The panel will analyse three key questions:

  • Why have elections triggered conflict and violence in Kenya but remained largely peaceful in Ghana?
  • What prospects do the most recent electoral contests in Ghana and Kenya offer for political and economic transformation? How can countries manage electoral conflict better?
  • What are the lessons and what role can the international community play?

This event is the first meeting in an ODI series on ‘Elections, legitimacy and transitions: lessons from emerging democracies’.