Responsibility to Protect and Mediation Lessons from the 2007-2008 Post-Election Crisis in Kenya

The mediation in the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya is recognized as a successful application of the responsibility to protect (R2P) through mediation. This paper investigates how and why it was possible to successfully end the crisis in the country. The scope of analysis in this paper is limited to the R2P in the context of track I mediation; whereas its main timeframe is from the election of 27 December 2007, until the signing of the Agreement on the Principles of Partnership of the Coalition on 28 February 2008.


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This paper also illustrates how theories on conflict resolution are valid to predict conditions for effective mediation, but also how particularities in context can determine the “success.” The following section describes the post-election crisis and examines its causes. The third section analyzes the intervention by the Panel of Eminent African Personalities (“the Panel” hereafter) with respect to timing, actors and strategies by applying theories on conflict resolution. Why did the mediation start at this particular time? Why was this Panel chosen as mediators? What strategies did they use? These are the three key questions in the analysis. Then, the fourth section summarizes lessons learned from Kenya. The fifth section focuses on additional factors contributing to the result, while the sixth section encompasses recent development and challenges for the future.

  • The 2007-2008 Post-Election Crisis in Kenya and Its Causes

Violence and Trigger Causes

After the announcement of the presidential election results on 30 December 2007, Kenya experienced its worst political crisis since independence. There were more than 1200 deaths and several hundred thousand Kenyans displaced. The trigger causes of the violence were the flawed election and its contested results. Before the election, news media had reported that opinion polls showed a very tight race between Raila Odinga, the leader of an opposition party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), and the incumbent President Mwai Kibaki. Though both sides apparently engaged in election malpractice, the Electoral Committee of Kenya (ECK) announced the victory of Kibaki.

The first wave of violence appears to have been spontaneous and reportedly stemmed from the anger of ODM supporters at what they perceived as the theft of the presidential election. This type of violence took place in Kisumu, Mombasa, Eldoret and Nairobi’s slum areas. The second type of violence occurred mainly in the rural setting of the Rift Valley as well as Eldoret and Kericho towns by allegedly targeting those perceived as ODM opponents, including the Kikuyu, Kissi and Luhya communities. The last type of violence was of retaliatory character. “Counter-attacks and reprisals developed, led by mobs of Kikuyu youths, notably in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, and two localities of the Rift Valley – Naivasha and Nakuru.” Gangs drawing on the large numbers of unemployed and marginalized youth were also responsible for the more organized violence.

It is to be noted that there were several institutional factors leading to the post-election violence in 2007-2008. First, 19 out of 22 members in the ECK had been appointed shortly before the elections and by the President alone without inter-party consultation. Some of the new commissioners lacked electoral experience, which caused doubts among many Kenyans about the legitimacy of the ECK. In addition, the Constitution and electoral law created further complications. For instance, the Constitution was silent about the way the 12 nominated seats in the Parliament were to be filled. Finally, only one complete copy of the electoral law had existed in the Parliamentary Library before the election, which made it difficult to provide those interested with a complete and comprehensive legal text.

Root Causes

The 2007-2008 election violence can never be explained without exploring its root causes: ethnic grievances. The population of Kenya is about 41 million consisting of 42 tribes: Kikuyu 22 per cent, Luhya 14 per cent, Luo 13 per cent, Kalenjin 12 per cent, Kamba 11 per cent, Kisii 6 per cent, Meru 6 per cent, other African 15 per cent and non-African including Asian, European and Arab 1 per cent. The root of the ethnic grievances can be traced back to the colonial period, as the “colonial government initiated the concept of tribes by replacing the traditional leadership system with the colonial chieftaincy system based on ethnic lines.”

*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 2 | No. 1
© Copyright 2012 by CESRAN
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