Kenyans go to the polls on August 8, 2017. President Uhuru Kenyatta of the ruling Jubilee Party is up against Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition leader from the National Super Alliance (NASA). While electoral contests involving incumbents are seen as routine processes with predictable outcomes in many African countries, the same cannot be said of Kenya’s 2017 elections. In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta secured the presidency with only 50.01 percent of the vote against Odinga’s 45 percent. Many observers have argued that the 2013 elections fell short of what is generally considered free and fair electoral practices. In 2017, major improvements have been made to the electoral process, including the strengthening of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) identification system, which collapsed in the last cycle. Further, the opposition is more united and has taken advantage of rising costs of living, widespread corruption, and perceptions of exclusionary politics to craft a message that has strengthened their position in the polls. Importantly, while ethnicity-based fault lines continue to dominate political discourse, there has been sustained debate on important issues such as historical injustices, land compensation for internally displaced persons, rising cost of living, public debt, and the type of “development” that Kenya needs.

This special issue of Kujenga Amani, edited by Dr. Duncan Omanga, on Kenya’s 2017 presidential elections explores some of these concerns—the dominant issues, the symbolic contests in the actual campaigns, the candidates—and the ramifications they hold for the elections and the country long after the elections. In this issue, C. J. Odhiambo explores how the opposition, NASA, has deployed music and song to anchor their message of change, using a religious trope of emancipation. Duncan Omanga argues why the coming polls might provide Kenya’s first ever one-term president. Eliud Biegon provides a historical overview of Kenya’s land problems and how the issue has emerged as a critical fault line in the coming elections. Muema Wambua reveals how “peace” and the discourse around it have become vacuous, to the extent of undermining its intended aims. Separately, Jacinta Mwende and Nicodemus Minde probe how ethnicity informs Kenya’s political behavior, both as an emblem of inclusion and as a crucial component of mobilization. As such, they argue, ethnicity continues to define Kenya’s 2017 presidential elections.

Articles in the Special Issue include:

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