Political Players in Kenya
Uhuru Kenyatta: The president is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first post-independence leader, and served as a deputy prime minister in the government of national unity formed in 2008. Kenyatta is a polarizing figure—his nomination as the presidential candidate of KANU in 2002 triggered a wave of defections that left the once-dominant party reduced to the role of minor player—and his indictment by the ICC on charges of inciting the deadly ethnic violence that erupted in the aftermath of the disputed 2007 elections has added to his notoriety. Nevertheless, he squeaked to victory in the 2013 election and has managed to build a majority coalition in the National Assembly. The ICC dropped its case against him in late 2014, citing a lack of evidence, and with similar charges against Vice President William Ruto also having been thrown out, the main near-term threat to their political partnership has been neutralized. Kenyatta belongs to one of the richest families in the region, and enjoys close links to Kenya’s business community. As such, foreign investors are unlikely to face much in the way of policy-related risks with Kenyatta at the helm. However, neither is the government likely to make much headway in addressing the most significant deterrents to investment, which include widespread corruption and worrisome security risks.
Jubilee Alliance: A three-party coalition made up of Kenyatta’s TNA, Vice President Ruto’s URP, and the remnants of the NARC alliance that carried former President Mwai Kibaki to victory in 2002, the Jubilee Alliance won 167 seats in the 349‑member National Assembly and 20 seats in the 47‑member Senate. Kenyatta secured a majority in both chambers by reaching a coalition agreement with the three-party alliance that backed the candidacy of third-place finisher Musalia Mudavadi in the 2013 elections. Political alliances in Kenya are notoriously weak, but the Jubilee Alliance proved to be sustainable, and the TNA and the URP are moving towards a formal merger. Nevertheless, if Kenyatta should encounter difficulties that make affiliation with him a political liability, or were he to renege (or be perceived to have reneged) on promises made to his political partners, the governing bloc could split. The risk in that regard will increase in the run-up to the 2022 elections, when jockeying by potential successors to Kenyatta can be expected to produce factional tensions within the alliance.
Orange Democratic Movement: The ODM is the dominant member of the nine-party CORD alliance that backed the 2013 presidential bid of the ODM’s founder, Raila Odinga, who served as prime minister in the previous power-sharing government. The ODM won 93 of CORD’s 136 seats in the National Assembly and 11 of the alliance’s 20 Senate seats, positioning it to be the main force of opposition, despite the post-election splintering of the larger coalition. The history of the ODM exemplifies the fluidity of political alliances in Kenya; it was formed in 2005 as a coalition of Odinga’s LDP and KANU, the party Odinga deserted after Kenyatta was chosen to stand as its presidential candidate in 2002. Since its founding, the ODM has been troubled by factional strife that resulted first in KANU’s withdrawal and, subsequently, the defection of Kalonzo Musyoka (who served as vice president in the power-sharing government), Ruto (who stood as Kenyatta’s running-mate in 2013), and Musalia Mudavadi, who mounted his own presidential election bid in 2013 as the candidate of the Amani coalition and entered into a coalition with the victorious Jubilee Alliance after finishing third.
International Financial Community: The health of Kenya’s economy will depend on maintaining the confidence of foreign investors, who will maintain a wary stance unless the government proves it can maintain a good relationship with multilateral lenders and donors. Dissatisfaction with the regime’s anti-corruption efforts will pose a persistent obstacle in that regard.
Al-Shabaab: Violent attacks carried out by militants from Al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist organization based in neighboring Somalia, have contributed to a deepening sense of insecurity within Kenya. The government has responded with tough anti-terror legislation that has stirred a great deal of controversy, and there is a danger that efforts to crack down on Al-Shabaab will give rise to a more general campaign of religious repression that fuels the radicalization of Kenyan Muslims, potentially transforming an incursion by a foreign jihadist movement into a full-blown domestic insurgency.Back to Blog