Kenya's 2017 elections: winner-takes-all politics as usual?

Nicholas Cheeseman, Karuti Kanyinga, Gabrielle Lynch, Mutuma Ruteere, Justin Willis

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13 Citations (Scopus)
144 Downloads (Pure)


This article asks what Kenya’s 2017 general elections tell us about the capacity of a new constitution to reduce the stakes of political competition and prospects of political instability. Three constitutional changes are particularly important: the adoption of a 50% + 1 threshold for the presidential election; the devolution of power to 47 county governments; and the introduction of a Supreme Court with the right to hear presidential electoral petitions. We find that the impact of the 2010 constitution has been mixed. The 50% plus 1 threshold encouraged coalition formation, but this dynamic has long been evident. Devolution has given a wider set of Kenyans a stake in the system, but has also created new structures that can be used to channel dissent against the state. The Supreme Court demonstrated its capacity to act as an independent institution, but did little to sustain electoral legitimacy. Indeed, while the 2010 constitution has clearly reshaped the political landscape, it was a personal deal that ended the post-election impasse. The elections therefore demonstrate how formal institutions alone cannot change political logics and reveal the continued significance of individual politicians and informal institutions that may compete with or complement their formal counterparts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-234
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number2
Early online date21 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


  • elections
  • constitutional reform
  • devolution
  • presidentialism
  • political culture
  • accountability
  • ethics politics


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