International support for elections has emphasized various dimensions during the past several decades. In an effort to promote free and genuine electoral processes, assistance has included technical support for election commissions, provision of electoral commodities, international and domestic election monitoring, political party capacity building and many other modes. The March 2013 Kenyan elections, whose anniversary we mark this month, brought to the fore a new approach: the international community’s multi-faceted support for an election process combined with a proactive violence prevention campaign. The fact that Kenyan institutions ultimately managed the process in a manner that minimized violence, in stark contrast to the horrific post-elections experience in 2007, and where all parties accepted the results despite a close result and Supreme Court appeal, makes this election worthy of study.
The USAID/Kenya mission, which dedicated considerable time and creative effort to supporting the Kenyan election process over several years, sought to memorialize its efforts in a manner that could be shared with other USAID missions facing similar circumstances. Hence, the Mission requested that I and two DCHA colleagues conduct a Rapid Assessment Review (RAR) of USAID’s experience, beginning with the period immediately following the 2007 election violence and continuing through the post-election period in 2013. We chose a RAR rather than a more immediate After Action Review and or the more rigorous evaluation performed in accordance with USAID’s 2011 Evaluation Policy, to quickly, but fully, capture important lessons about election support in dynamic, politically complex settings, where diverse interventions are required to achieve desired outcomes.
The RAR emphasizes that USAID was not the principal actor that contributed to the largely successful outcome. Most important, a wide range of Kenyans –election officials, party activists and civil society organizers – were the individuals committed to the reform process initiated in response to the previous post-election violence. USAID’s role in the Kenyan elections was embedded in a broader U.S. government effort, which featured the active involvement of several U.S. Ambassadors, a team from the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) and, in the lead-up to election day, a proactive inter-agency effort, both at post and in Washington.
Among the RAR’s 11 recommendations are the following: “Promote elections that are peaceful and credible, and avoid operating as if these objectives are inherently in conflict” and “Start early – An election is a process, not an event.” Having just returned from a visit to Nigeria, I know that these and other lessons included in the RAR will resonate with Nigerian officials as they prepare for February 2015 elections in a country with even more linguistic, ethnic and geographic divisions than Kenya, and which has also had experiences with poorly administered elections leading to increased tensions and violence.
USAID is not alone in seeking to learn from the Kenya experience. In addition to the RAR, you can learn more about the Kenya elections process through the State Department’s “Final Evaluation on CSO ‘s Kenya Engagement,” the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’s ”OCHA Lessons Learned of the Kenya Election Process Humanitarian Preparedness Process” and the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect’s “R2P in Practice: Ethnic Violence, Elections and Atrocity Prevention in Kenya”. And just last week, the U.S. Institute for Peace organized a symposium on “Kenya, One Year Later: Lessons Learned for Preventing Mass Violence.”