Kenya Crisis 2007-2008

Premise of the Crisis

Between December 2007 and February of 2008, Kenya was briefly embroiled in ethnic violence which pushed the nation to the brink of civil conflict following a disputed Presidential election. The election held on the 27th of December of 2007 was characterized by ethnically-rooted political coalitions which divided the more than 70 distinct Kenyan ethnic groups. After the incumbent was declared the narrow victor under suspicious circumstances, widespread violence spread throughout the country, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths and prompting international fears of a disastrous civil war. In response, the French Embassy in Nairobi called for the international community to react, invoking responsibility to protect in the face of an impending humanitarian catastrophe.

Crisis Characteristics

Basis of Conflict:

This crisis was based on historical ethnic tensions which were accentuated by ethnic politics in a contentious, close election.

Regime Type:

The regime at the time could be characterized as a multi-party democracy, with two main political parties participating in the election, with constituencies mainly defined by ethnic groups. 

Severity of Crisis:

By the end of the crisis more than 1,000 people had been killed, most of whom were targeted due to their ethnic-political affiliations. Additionally, more than 500,000 peoples were displaced. The turmoil lasted roughly two months, and calmed once a power-sharing agreement was reached. 

Intervention Characteristics

The intervention in Kenya can best be characterized as an early, multilateral intervention focused on mediating a power-sharing agreement to end violence before it spread out of control. International attention was drawn quickly to the developing violence in part due to the presence of foreign election observers. Leaders of nearby states and representatives for the African Union lead initial efforts to mediate a peace agreement and were eventually supplemented by Kofi Annan representing the UN. This coalition of actors were finally able to broker a successful power-sharing agreement between the belligerents on February 28th, 2008. 

Outcome

The intervention was ultimately considered a success as violence largely calmed and transitioned to political competition. Following the power-sharing agreement, Kenya adopted a new constitution in 2010 aimed at reforming election procedures to avoid future violence. The following election in 2013 was similarly close, but the results were challenged in the Supreme Court and violence was largely avoided. 

Analysis

The Kenya Crisis in 2007 to 2008 represents a rare success in international intervention in response to humanitarian crisis. Several key factors contributed to the resounding success in Kenya. First and foremost was the agility of the intervention. Nearly at the first sign of violence the international community began to respond. Key to this speed was the presence of foreign elections observers, which anticipated the volatility introduced by the election and alerted the international community once violence began. The speed of response allowed regional actors including neighboring states and the institutions of the African Union and the UN to mediate a power-sharing agreement before violence spread uncontrollably, preempting the need for a more costly military deployment. Furthermore, the commitment of these actors to resolve the dispute despite initial failures and barriers was instrumental. Finally, post-crisis truth and justice commissions and inquiries created impetus for reform, lending longer term stability following the violence.