For 50 years, Kenya has been a stalwart and reliable partner in a strategically important but volatile region. As the economic powerhouse and transport hub of East Africa, Kenya’s stability is crucial to the security and economic prospects of its neighbors. The success of Kenya’s upcoming presidential, parliamentary and local elections depends greatly upon the degree to which the country has reformed and strengthened its democratic institutions, increased transparency and accountability, and deepened respect for the rule of law and human rights. The United States has focused significant diplomatic and programmatic effort, particularly in the time since the December 2007 post-election violence, to support Kenya’s ambitious reform agenda, the centerpiece of which is a new, progressive constitution, which was adopted in 2010.
The upcoming March 4 elections will be an important test of Kenya’s progress on reform. They are the first national elections since 2007 and will be the first under the new constitution. Since 2010, the U.S. Government has contributed more than $35 million to support electoral reform, civic education, and elections preparation in Kenya. In addition, since 2008, we have provided more than $90 million to support constitutional reform, conflict mitigation, civil society strengthening, and youth leadership and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to the goal of free, fair, and peaceful elections in Kenya. U.S. support, which is coordinated closely with international partners, includes:
• The Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC): The U.S. Government has provided assistance to strengthen the institutional capacity of the IEBC to hold free, fair, and peaceful elections. This includes technical assistance and support for boundary delimitation; voter registration; development of enforcement mechanisms for electoral laws; elections results transmission; outreach and communication. We have also assisted the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties in developing a software template for the submission of membership lists.
• Civic and Voter Education: Civic and voter education are important components of successful elections. U.S. support includes funding for the production and dissemination of non-partisan voter education materials and ad campaigns; technical support to plan and prepare a national civic education curriculum; and funding for a national civic and voter education program targeting ten million Kenyans using social and mainstream media, as well as face-to-face training.
• Elections Observation: The United States, in close coordination with international partners, is providing assistance for a robust elections observation effort. Together, we are supporting three elections observation missions: the Kenyan Elections Observation Group, a coalition of Kenyan civil society organizations, which will field 9,500 to 12,000 short-term domestic observers and 450 long-term observers; the Carter Center, which will field 14 long-term observers and approximately 30 short-term observers; and a U.S. embassy-based elections observation mission, which fielded 20 observation teams during the political party primaries and will field 35 teams during the general elections.
• Elections Security: Particularly in light of the poor performance of police forces during the 2007-2008 violence, the U.S. Government has engaged the Kenyan Government, the IEBC, and civil society to emphasize the need for a clear and well-coordinated elections security plan, and to offer assistance. We have supported local efforts by police and community leaders to develop relationships and plans for addressing tensions and potential violence surrounding the election. At the national level, U.S. contributions to a UNDP basket fund are providing support to the IEBC to improve elections security.
• Media: Inaccurate and sensationalist reporting contributed to the violence following the 2007 election. The U.S. Government is funding nationwide programs to help professionalize the media and strengthen the reporting skills of journalists. This support is designed to help the Kenyan media’s understanding and accuracy of reporting on elections and electoral processes. We are also supporting programs that build journalists’ capacity to investigate and report on local issues, including sensitive matters such as land reform, devolution, and local violence. To complement the work with the media, we are also assisting civil society in their efforts to engage with the media and to monitor hate-speech and other inflammatory rhetoric.
• Political Parties: The U.S. Government is providing assistance to Kenya’s political parties to help them become more professional, comply with the new election laws, and embrace the spirit of inclusiveness envisioned in Kenya’s constitutional reforms. This assistance includes training for more than 9,000 individuals from major political parties in methods of developing party policies and platforms and to improving grassroots outreach and recruitment, especially of women and youth. It also provides training for 1,200 potential election candidates. U.S. assistance supported the formation of the Inter-Party Youth Forum, which brings together youth representatives to the major political parties; many of the members will also be candidates for office in the county or national elections.
• Conflict Prevention and Mitigation: The ability of communities and local security services to prevent and mitigate conflict, including through early warning and early response mechanisms, will be important during the March elections. We are supporting programs in potential hotspot areas of the Rift Valley and Coast Province to deter elections-related violence by strengthening linkages among diverse Kenyan organizations. Strengthening theses connections enables these organizations to promote constructive participation in the election, defuse political tensions, and strengthen early warning and response mechanisms. We are also supporting small-scale social and economic development activities that provide opportunities for people of different backgrounds to work together toward common goals. Our extensive work with civil society includes support for local District Peace Committees, youth, and women to disseminate peace messages through personal contacts, and through traditional and social media. Finally, the U.S. Government is coordinating contingency planning with humanitarian assistance organizations for response to the possibility of large-scale election-related violence as well as ensuring that humanitarian analysis is incorporated into election preparation planning.
• Youth Engagement: Seventy-five percent of Kenyans are under 35 years of age. Kenyan youth were both perpetrators and victims during the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The United States government’s Yes Youth Can! program supports Kenyan youth leadership, livelihoods, and empowerment. The program has supported formation of 20,000 village youth councils and assisted 500,000 youth in registering for national identity cards, which are necessary for voter registration. Other efforts include contributing funding to a civic education campaign and a series of peace concerts specifically targeting youth in the run-up to the election.