Skip to main content

‘The local mwananchi has lost trust’: design, transition and legitimacy in Kenyan election management*

  • Aaron Erlich (a1) and Nicholas Kerr (a2)

Across African democracies, maintaining popular trust in electoral management bodies (EMBs) is vital to enhancing election integrity and, ultimately, regime legitimacy. However, scholars have largely sidestepped any systematic analysis of how citizens formulate their attitudes towards EMBs and how these attitudes vary over time. To address these gaps in the literature, we focus on Kenyan EMBs, which have experienced fluctuating popular support since the ruinous 2007 elections and subsequent institutional reforms. Using primary election reports and original survey and focus group data, we analyse the sources of Kenyans' trust in EMBs from 1992 onward and probe the 2013 election period deeply. Across time, we find that confidence in EMBs usually collapses after polarised elections, due to perceived problems with the EMB's autonomy and capacity. Following the 2013 elections, Kenyans were also more likely to lose confidence in the EMB if they were affiliated with losing presidential candidates or if they were critical of EMB performance.

Corresponding author
Hide All

For feedback and advice on this project, we thank the Journal of Modern African Studies editors, two anonymous reviewers, Jeff Conroy-Crutz, Alma David, James Long, and participants at the International Political Science Association's (IPSA) 23rd World Congress. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency. All errors remain those of the authors. Nicholas Kerr's work was supported by the University of Alabama's Research Grant Committee [2014–50].

Hide All
Adar, K.G. 2000. ‘Assessing democratisation trends in Kenya: a post-mortem of the Moi Regime’, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 38, 3: 103–30.
Adebayo, P.F. & Omotola, J.S.. 2007. ‘Public perceptions of the 2007 Nigerian general elections’, Journal of African Elections 6, 2: 201–19.
Ajulu, R. 1998. ‘Kenya's democracy experiment: the 1997 elections’, Review of African Political Economy 25, 76: 275–85.
Anderson, C.J., Blais, A., Bowler, S., Donovan, T. & Listhaug, O.. 2005. Losers' Consent: elections and democratic legitimacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Andreassen, B., Geisler, G. & Tostensen, A.. 1993. A Hobbled Democracy: the Kenya general elections 1992. Oslo: Norwegian Institute of Human Rights Oslo. <>, accessed 6.6.2014.
Ashforth, A. 2009. ‘Ethnic violence and the prospects for democracy in the aftermath of the 2007 Kenyan elections’, Public Culture 21: 919.
Atkeson, L.R., Alvarez, R.M., Hall, T.E. & Sinclair, J.A.. 2014. ‘Balancing fraud prevention and electoral participation: attitudes toward voter identification’, Social Science Quarterly 95, 5: 1381–98.
Barkan, J.D. 1993. ‘Kenya: lessons from a flawed election’, Journal of Democracy 4, 3: 8595.
Barkan, J.D. 2013. ‘Technology is not democracy’, Journal of Democracy 24, 3: 156–65.
Barkan, J.D. & Mutua, M.. 2010. ‘Turning the corner in Kenya’, Foreign A ffairs. <>
Beaulieu, E. 2014. Electoral Protest and Democracy in the Developing World. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Branch, D. & Cheeseman, N.. 2009. ‘Democratization, sequencing, and state failure in Africa: lessons from Kenya’, African Affairs 108, 430: 126.
Bratton, M. 1998. ‘Second elections in Africa’, Journal of Democracy 9, 3: 5166.
Bratton, M. 2013. Voting and Democratic Citizenship in Africa. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Bratton, M. & Kimenyi, M.S.. 2008. ‘Voting in Kenya: putting ethnicity in perspective’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 2, 2: 272–89.
Bratton, M., Mattes, R.B. & Gyimah-Boadi, E.. 2005. Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cantú, F. & García-Ponce, O.. 2015. ‘Partisan losers' effects: perceptions of electoral integrity in Mexico’, Electoral Studies 39, 1: 114.
Carter Center. 2003. Observing the 2002 Kenya Elections: final report. Atlanta, GA: The Carter Center.
Cheeseman, N. 2008. ‘The Kenyan elections of 2007: an introduction’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 2, 2: 166–84.
Cheeseman, N. 2010. ‘African elections as vehicles for change’, Journal of Democracy 21: 139–53.
Cheeseman, N., Lynch, G. & Willis, J.. 2014. ‘Democracy and its discontents: understanding Kenya's 2013 elections’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8, 1: 224.
Commonwealth Observer Group (COG). 1993. The Presidential, Parliamentary and Civic Elections in Kenya, 29 December, 1992. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.
Commonwealth Observer Group (COG). 2002. Kenya General Election, 27 December 2002: The Report of the Commonwealth Observer Group. London: Commonwealth Secretariat.
Cook, K.S., Hardin, R. & Levi, M.. 2005. Cooperation Without Trust? New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Cook, F.L., Jacobs, L.R. & Kim, D.. 2010. ‘Trusting what you know: information, knowledge, and confidence in social security’, Journal of Politics 72, 2: 397412.
Cyr, J. 2015. ‘The pitfalls and promise of focus groups as a data collection method’, Sociological Methods and Research 45: 231–59.
Deacon, G. 2015. ‘Driving the Devil Out: Kenya's Born-Again Election’, Journal of Religion in Africa 45, 200220.
Debrah, E. 2011. ‘Measuring governance institutions' success in Ghana: the case of the electoral commission, 1993–2008’, African Studies 70, 1: 2545.
Dercon, S. & Gutiérrez-Romero, R.. 2012. ‘Triggers and characteristics of the 2007 Kenyan Electoral Violence’, World Development 40, 4: 731–44.
Easton, D. 1975. ‘A re-assessment of the concept of political support’, British Journal of Political Science 5, 4: 435–57.
Eifert, E.M. & Posner, D.. 2010. ‘Political competition and ethnic identification in Africa’, American Journal of Political Science 54, 2: 494510.
Elder, C., Stigant, S. & Claes, J.. 2014. Elections and Violent Conflict in Kenya: making prevention stick. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.
Elklit, J. & Reynolds, A.. 2002. ‘The impact of election administration on the legitimacy of emerging democracies: a new comparative politics research agenda’, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 40, 2: 86119.
European Election Observation Mission (EUEOM). 2008. Kenya Final Report: General Elections, 27 December 2007.
European Election Observation Mission (EUEOM). 2013. European Union Election Observation Mission to Kenya: General Elections 2013 Final Report.
Ferree, K.E., Gibson, C.C. & Long, J.D.. 2014. ‘Voting behavior and electoral irregularities in Kenya's 2013 election’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 8, 1: 153–72.
Gazibo, M. 2006. ‘The forging of institutional autonomy: a comparative study of electoral management commissions in Africa’, Canadian Journal of Political Science 39: 22.
Gibson, C.C. & Long, J.D.. 2009. ‘The presidential and parliamentary elections in Kenya, December 2007’, Electoral Studies 28, 3: 497502.
Gibson, J.L., Caldeira, G.A. & Baird, V.A.. 1998. ‘On the legitimacy of national high courts’, American Political Science Review 92, 2: 343–58.
Harrington, J. & Manji, A.. 2015. ‘Restoring Leviathan? The Kenyan Supreme Court, constitutional transformation, and the presidential election of 2013’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 9, 2: 175–92.
Hartlyn, J., McCoy, J. & Mustillo, T.M.. 2008. ‘Electoral governance matters’, Comparative Political Studies 41, 1: 7398.
Hornsby, C. 2012. Kenya: a history since independence. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Horowitz, J. 2009. ‘Power-sharing in Kenya: power-sharing agreements, negotiations and peace processes’, CSCW Working Papers. Oslo: International Peace Research Institute.
Horowitz, J. & Long, J.D.. 2016. ‘Ethnicity, information, and strategic voting in multiethnic democracies: evidence from Kenya’, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, 7–9 January, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
International Republican Institute. 1993. Kenya, The December 29, 1992 Elections. Washington, DC: IRI.
Juma, M.K. 2009. ‘African mediation of the Kenyan post-2007 election crisis’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies 27, 407.
Kerr, N. 2013. ‘Popular evaluations of election quality in Africa: evidence from Nigeria’, Electoral Studies 32, 4: 819–37.
King, G., Tomz, M. & Wittenberg, J.. 2000. ‘Making the most of statistical analyses: improving interpretation and presentation’, American Journal of Political Science 44, 2: 347–61.
Klein, K., Scallan, A., Santos de Assunçao, C. & Dauphinais, D.. 1996. Toward Credible and Legitimate Elections in Kenya: recommendations for action. Washington, DC: IFES.
Lehoucq, F.E. & Molina, I.. 2002. Stuffing the Ballot Box: fraud, electoral reform, and democratization in Costa Rica. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Levi, M. & Stoker, L.. 2000. ‘Political trust and trustworthiness’, Annual Review of Political Science 3, 1: 475507.
Levi, M., Sacks, A. & Tyler, T.. 2009. ‘Conceptualizing legitimacy, measuring legitimating beliefs’, American Behavioral Scientist 53, 3: 354–75.
Lewis, P. & Kew, D.. 2015. ‘Nigeria's hopeful election’, Journal of Democracy 26, 3: 94109.
Long, J.D. 2012. ‘ Voting, fraud, and violence: political accountability in African elections ’, PhD Dissertation, University of California, San Diego.
Lynch, G. 2006. ‘The fruits of perception: ethnic politics and the case of Kenya's constitutional referendum’, African Studies 65, 2: 233–70.
Lynch, G. 2011. I Say to You: ethnic politics and the Kalenjin in Kenya. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Makulilo, A.B. 2009. ‘Independent electoral commission in Tanzania – a false debate?’, Representation 45, 4: 435–53.
Miller, A. & Listhaug, O.. 1999. ‘Political performance and institutional trust’, in Norris, P., ed. Critical Citizens: global support for democratic government. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Mishler, W. & Rose, R.. 2001. ‘What are the origins of political trust? testing institutional and cultural theories in post-communist societies’, Comparative Political Studies 34, 1: 3062.
Moehler, D.C. 2009. ‘Critical citizens and submissive subjects: election losers and winners in Africa’, British Journal of Political Science 39, 2: 345–66.
Moreno, E., Crisp, B.F. & Shugart, M.S.. 2003. ‘The accountability deficit in Latin America’, in Democratic Accountability in Latin America, ed. Mainwairing, S. & Welna, C.. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Mozaffar, S. & Schedler, A.. 2002. ‘The comparative study of electoral governance: introduction’, International Political Science Review 23, 1: 527.
Nannestad, P. 2008. ‘What have we learned about generalized trust, if anything?’, Annual Review of Political Science 11: 413–36.
Ndegwa, S.N. 1998. ‘The incomplete transition: the constitutional and electoral context in Kenya’, Africa Today 45, 2: 193211.
Ndegwa, S.N. 2003. ‘Kenya: third time lucky?’, Journal of Democracy 14, 3: 145–58.
Ng'ethe, N. & Barkan, J.D.. 1998. ‘Kenya tries again’, Journal of Democracy 9, 2: 3248.
Norris, P. 2011. Democratic Deficit: critical citizens revisited. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Norris, P. 2014. Why Electoral Integrity Matters. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Opitz, C., Fjelde, H. & Höglund, K.. 2013. ‘Including peace: the influence of electoral management bodies on electoral violence’, Journal of Eastern African Studies 7, 4: 713–31.
Otieno, F., ed. 2015. New Constitution, Same Old Challenges: reflections on Kenya's 2013 general elections. Nairobi: Society for International Development – Nairobi Office in conjunction with Uria Trust.
Padmanabhan, V. 2002. ‘Democracy's baby blocks: South Africa's electoral commissions’, New York University Law Review 77, 4: 1157–94.
Pastor, R.A. 1999. ‘The role of electoral administration in democratic transitions: implications for policy and research’, Democratization 6: 127.
Popkin, S.L. 1994. The Reasoning Voter: communication and persuasion in presidential campaigns. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Posner, D.N. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Pottie, D. 2001. ‘Electoral management and democratic governance in Southern Africa’, Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 28, 2: 133–55.
Shah, S. 2015. ‘Free and fair? Citizens’ assessments of the 2013 general election in Kenya’, Review of African Political Economy 42, 143: 4461.
Steeves, J.S. 1997. ‘Re-democratisation in Kenya: ‘unbounded politics’ and the political trajectory towards national elections’, Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 35, 3: 2752.
Steeves, J.S. 1999. ‘The political evolution of Kenya: the 1997 elections and succession politics’, Journal of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 37, 1: 7194.
Steeves, J.S. 2006. ‘Presidential succession in Kenya: the transition from Moi to Kibaki’, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 44, 2: 211–33.
Throup, D. and Hornsby, C.. 1998. Multi-Party Politics in Kenya: the Kenyatta and Moi states and the triumph of the system in the 1992 election. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Ugues, A. 2010. ‘Citizens views on electoral governance in Mexico’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 20, 4: 495527.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed