Kenya Decides

Ahead of the August 8 general election, signals indicate a tight race and a high risk of violence.

By Gordon LaForge

August 07, 2017 | From The Week Ahead
Digital Campaign kenya

Incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta has narrowly edged ahead of opposition leader Raila Odinga in the digital campaign.

In Tuesday's general election, Kenyans will cast their votes for president, parliamentarians, and thousands of local representatives. The presidential race pits incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the country's first president, against former prime minister and perennial opposition leader Raila Odinga. 

Kenyatta, one of Kenya's wealthiest men, has pushed forward high-profile development and infrastructure projects in his four years in office. But many Kenyans are dissatisfied with high unemployment, rising food prices, and public sector corruption. Odinga has promised clean governance and more localized development. This is his fourth and probably final attempt to win the presidency. 

Neither candidate has a convincing lead in public opinion surveys. In the digital campaign -- i.e. the volume and intensity of engagement and support for a candidate on social and collaborative media -- Kenyatta has gained a slight advantage in recent days. Both candidates, however, are gaining digital momentum at an almost equal clip (for an explanation of Predata's digital campaign scores here). 

Regardless of the outcome, Kenya is bracing for turmoil. Over the vote looms the dark memory of 2007, when a disputed result triggered months of ethnic fighting that killed more than 1,000 and displaced 600,000. Violence has already marred the campaign season, and yesterday a Predata signal designed to anticipate election-related violence hit the highest level in the signal's seven-year history. This means the predictive algorithm is as confident as it has ever been that election-related violence will occur in the coming days. 

kenya violence

Last week, the murdered and tortured body of the official in charge of Kenya's electronic voting system was found, triggering suspicions of vote tampering. Even the perception of fraud could be cataclysmic. In 2007, alleged ballot rigging sparked the violence.