EU observers call for electoral reform in Kenya

By on 22/01/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Kenya's parliament building in Nairobi (Image courtesy: Jorge Láscar).

EU observers have called on Kenya to reform its electoral system following a catalogue of violence and intimidation at last year’s disputed presidential election.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won an October rerun of the August presidential vote, after the Supreme Court annulled the first election over irregularities. He was sworn in for a second term in November.

But opposition leader Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) boycotted the repeat ballot and the extended election period was marred by escalating violence between police and protesters.

Election aspirations

Releasing the final report of the EU’s Kenya Election Observation Mission earlier this month, chief observer Marietje Schaake said: “Kenyans went from high hopes for these elections to many disappointments and confrontations. Kenya remains deeply divided.

“Our final report and recommendations are intended to contribute to a better democratic process and a restoration of trust. But with every recommendation, leadership from those in power, support from the population, and cooperation between different fractions are needed in order to initiate reforms.”

Schaake said there had been improved performance by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), with a more transparent results process in October, but also a persistent lack of trust in the institution by the opposition and other stakeholders.

Calls for reform

Incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga went head to head in Kenya’s 2017 presidential election (Image courtesy: Amanda Lucidon [Kenyatta pic] and World Economic Forum [Odinga pic]).

Other key concerns included intimidation of independent institutions such as the IEBC and the judiciary by politicians from both sides, the use of disproportionate force by security forces, some violence by opposition protestors, attempts to restrict civil society and media, and the abuse of state resources by both sides – but mostly to the benefit of the incumbent.

The report’s key recommendations for electoral reform include cross-party reform of election laws; measures to strengthen the independence, accountability and IT systems of the IEBC; legislation on the transmission and publication of ballot results; and a review of the electoral system to promote greater inclusivity. It calls for 29 reforms in total.

“We hope the recommendations in our final report will contribute to more resilient democracy from which all Kenyans benefit,” Schaake said. “This takes time to build up, which is why it is important that steps are taken promptly to improve the legal framework, institutions and practices.”

Unwelcome advice

The release of the report in Brussels – rather than Nairobi – prompted a diplomatic spat between the EU and Kenya. The EU EOM said in a statement that it had to publish the report within three months of the second election under the mission’s agreed terms and the Kenyan government had stated that it was not prepared to receive Schaake in Nairobi at this time.

But Kenya’s ambassador to Belgium and the EU Johnson Weru said the release of the report was “unprocedural and premature” and accused Schaake of “contemptuous political grand-standing”, as reported by


About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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