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#KenyaDecides 2013: Election Coverage from the Field

On March 4th, 2013 over 12.3 million Kenyans headed to the polls to elect their next parliamentarians, senators, governors and their fourth president since independence 50 years ago. In the weeks prior to the big day, Kenyans urged one another to become registered voters, consequently breaking all of its election records to date. Over 14.3 million people registered to vote, 86.1% of which turned out on election day. Many voters woke up before dawn, queuing as early as 1:00 am, and waited more than 10 hours to cast their ballots.

Kenyans queue at a polling station in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, the biggest in Africa.

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

The atmosphere leading up to the elections was one of caution and optimism. The 8 presidential candidates participated in two nationally televised policy debates, the first ever to take place in East Africa, during which they personally pledged to spearhead peaceful campaigns. All recent YouTube clips have been prefaced with advertisements of young athletes urging Kenyans to vote peacefully. The presidential candidates joined hands and posed for pictures that splashed across the front pages of newspapers, symbolizing their collective commitment to preventing a repeat of the post-election fallout in 2008. Last week, Kenyans across all ethnic lines joined together in a prayer vigil for the upcoming vote in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.


(Photo Credit: Los Angeles Times)

Kenyans held their breathe and waited  five days for the results.  The delay was caused by the toll of high voter turnout on election infrastructure.  The new electronic counting system crashed and a row broke out over whether spoiled ballots would be included in the official count or not.  On Saturday, March 9th, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) finally announced that Uhuru Kenyata cleared the 50% threshold required by the new constitution and beat Raila Odinga by .07%.   According to the New York Times, “The second-place finisher, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, has refused to admit defeat and plans to appeal to Kenya’s Supreme Court to overturn the results.”   There is also a tenuous cloud hanging over the winners, Uhuru Kenyatta and running mate William Ruto, who have been accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of crimes against humanity for their alleged role in stoking the violence during the last election.   Consequently, many Western nations have issued statements that commend the “Kenyan people” for exercising their democratic right peacefully, but stop short of congratulating Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. 

Although Raila Odinga plans to contest the loss of his third presidential bid and there is some apprehension about Kenya’s standing within the international community, Kenyans have had their say.  Nairobi is calm and people seem keen on accepting the results and moving on with their daily grind.  The biggest winner in this election is peace.   There is a deep seated commitment to maintaining law and order across the entire societal spectrum that began in 2010, when 67% of Kenyans approved a new constitution, in direct response to the policies or lack there of that framed the fallout in 2008.  For example,  the new constitution requires that candidates cease campaigning 24 hours before the voting day and that the winning presidential candidate garners 50 percent plus one of the votes.


President elect Uhuru Kenyatta (Photo Credit:

All election summaries aside, you’re probably curious about what Kenyans have been thinking and saying in the days before, during and after the election. One of our favorite ways to pass the time while riding in vehicles or walking with others is to conduct informal polling. We’ve asked everyone, but we especially liked asking taxi drivers and the people we work with. Everyone seems to agree that they want politicians who are not corrupt to move Kenya forward. They also seem to think that this election is a formality, and that they will have better candidates to choose from, who offer a greater deviation from the political status quo in 2017.  We started the polling with a variant of “Do you mind if I ask for whom you are voting?” Here is a glimpse of election buzz from the field.


Mural on the corner of Muindi Mbingu and Biashara Streets, downtown Nairobi
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)


Mural on the corner of Muindi Mbingu and Biashara Streets, downtown Nairobi
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

How have the recent elections impacted your life?

“I’m here on the coast making money for my family because the safari mzungus have dried up.” Joseph lives in Masai Mara, which is the most tourist visited reserve in Kenya and about 610km from where I met him. He explained that over a month ago the tourists (mzungus) stopped coming because they were fearful of violence and robbery due to the elections. According to Joseph, there’s been no violence in his home region, however he still plans to make the long trek back to Masai Mara this week to protect his land and his family from “inter-tribal disputes” that he thinks may occur if people don’t like the results. -Joseph [Mombassa, Kenya


Joseph in Mombasa, Kenya (Photo Credit: Eileen Flannigan)

What is the difference between election 2013 and the last election in 2008?

“I work as a fundraiser [at a University in Nairobi]. I think the only difference [between this time and the last] is the fact that everybody is preaching peace.  Until a certain power hungry, pre- independence group of families passing down the political seat like a monarchy fades away, then I think change is not happening any time soon. I voted for Raila, because I think he is not angry for power. During the last general elections, he clearly won, but in the outbreak of violence, for the sake of Kenyans, he was ready to take the back seat. That convinced me that he gives a damn about my life. A true patriot. I voted at Nairobi Primary, I went at 10:30 am and was done at 12:30 pm. The atmosphere was really good and I actually made friends with someone on the queue. Nobody was talking politics and so we were just a bunch of happy Kenyans, with the furious sun above us laughing at people trying to jump the queue and we had fun voting. And yeah, we shared candy when sugar levels started going down.” -Development Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]


Kenyans queue to vote, downtown Nairobi. (Photo Credit: Pete Muller)

What issues would you like addressed by the next administration?

Transport is a major problem and I would love to see my next leaders install a railway system that works and is affordable to all.”
- Development Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

“I hope that whomever gets elected continues with infrastructure development. I would hope that our economy grows, that the health
sector is addressed (meaning everyone gets basic health care) and unemployment is tackled.  The best way forward would be by encouraging foreign investment rather than foreign aid, encouraging investment in our micro, small and medium enterprises, definitely investing in our so called informal sector and growing our East African trade block.” -Architect [Nairobi, Kenya]

How did you prepare for the election?

“My family and I and a few friends [prepared for the elections by reading] through the new constitution, looking at how the new government is to be structured, seeking to understand how it will work and what our rights are.” -Architect [Nairobi, Kenya]

“All we can do during this election is pray for peace and that the best leader to take Kenya forward will win.  I’m leading a prayer service every weekend and ask that you too pray for our country.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]


Billboard on Mbagathi Highway, Nairobi.
“Every Kenyan is as much of a Kenyan as you are. When sick any doctor can treat you. Why employ, elect or live with someone on the basis of race, tribe, ethnicity or religion. “
(Photo Credit: Katrina Shakarian)

Who did you vote for?

“I voted for Peter Kenneth because I believe he stands for change in our country. He is new blood, unshackled by generational family ties
to political elitism and stands for a progressive paradigm shift  - a shift away from tribalism and elitism and towards gains based on
merit. How great the day when Kenyans can stand tall, confident that they can get ahead, not based on family name, or tribe or bank
balance, but on how hard they work and how good they are at what they do.” -
Architect [Nairobi, Kenya]


(Photo Credit: Peter Kenneth Campaign,

“I’m a full Kikuyu but am not voting based on tribal affiliations this year.  The Kikuyus have ruled this country for years now and I think it’s time for a change so I am voting for Raila Odinga.” -Mountain Porter [Mt. Kenya, Kenya]

“I’m still trying to decide between voting for Raila or Kenyatta.  I think Raila is the safe option, he would lead our country as it has been led until now and I know what I would get from my vote.  But Kenyatta has the potential to bring more change to Kenya.  It’s a hard decision.” -Taxi Driver [Nairobi, Kenya]

“A run-off election would be really expensive for Kenyans so many voters who might otherwise vote for one of the less popular candidates might instead align with Raila or Kenyatta in order to avoid a run-off.  I too think Peter Kenneth and Martha Madaraka are the best candidates to take our country forward one day but they are not ready for this election – it’s not worth voting for them yet.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

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Former presidential candidate Raila Odinga
(Photo Credit:

Well, you see, I am voting for the candidate most likely to win, who also happens to be the best leader: Uhuru Kenyatta. And it is not because I am Kikuyu; he is the best politician…I do not care about the ICC issue because, you see, that was just a plot by his enemies. There are many who share the blame for the violence” -Taxi Driver [Nairobi, Kenya]

My husband says my vote won’t count since we are going to cancel each other, but I want to send a message that I do not like corrupt politicians, so I will vote for Peter Kenneth.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

“Ah! Of course you can ask! But I cannot tell you yet. I am watching the debates tonight, and I will see who is the strongest, who it is that I want to lead our country. It is one thing to hear them giving a speech, and another to hear them answering questions without someone whispering the answer in their ears.”n -Taxi Driver [Nairobi, Kenya]

I am voting for the best leader. A leader who will be the most thoughtful and has a proven record—that is Peter Kenneth! He will not win, no, but it is my privilege and responsibility to vote for who is the best for me and for other women and children.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

I am Kikuyu, but I want a man who can change things; I am voting for Raila.” -Microfinance Professional [Nairobi, Kenya]

*This post was written and arranged by Duda Cardoso, Jada Tullos Anderson, Eileen Flannigan and Katrina Shakarian

About the author

Katrina Shakarian

Katrina is a first generation Armenian-American, born and raised in Queens, New York. She attributes her affinity for travel, and learning about different cultures to growing up immersed in a rich cultural tradition at home, and the diverse sites and sounds of New York City right outside of it. She will be serving in Nairobi, Kenya with Strathmore University and the Kiva Zip Team. Prior to joining the Kiva Fellows Program, Katrina was an educator. An alumnus of Teach for America, she taught elementary level English Language Learners in the South Bronx, and middle school mathematics at KIPP AMP Academy in Brooklyn. Through teaching, Katrina sought to give back to the city that raised her, empowering children with knowledge and tools to build fulfilling and self-sufficient lives. Katrina is interested in microfinance for the same reasons. She seeks to understand poverty in a global context, and explore the roles of different tools in alleviating it. She is ecstatic to begin this journey, through which she'll better understand and contribute to cutting edge initiatives in sustainable development.