Moi's authoritarian rule fuelled poll violence, new study reveals

Moi's authoritarian rule fuelled poll violence, new study reveals
  • There was large-scale post-election violence after the 2007/8 poll.

  • But elections in 2002 and 2013 were significantly more peaceful.

New York

Former President Daniel arap Moi's authoritarian rule created political conditions that sparked the election violence of 1992, a team of researchers had said in a new study.

Moi's single-party system rested on a narrow base of support and repressed those groups of Kenyans not included in the ruling coalition, the researchers say.


The “state-instigated” violence that erupted in 1992 following the first multi-party election since independence “played on historical injustices and ethnic divisions,” the authors write in a synopsis of their study.

“The violence served to solidify the incumbent's support base and to punish opposition voters,” add researchers based at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Their analysis appears in Journal of Peace Research, a scholarly publication based in Norway.


The professors contrast the election-related killings of 1,500 Kenyans with the generally peaceful outcome of voting in Zambia a year earlier. That country's 1991 election was the first in 22 years to feature multi-party competition.

“Our analysis suggests that violence was a more viable electoral strategy in Kenya than in Zambia because of the type of authoritarian rule that existed in Kenya before the polls,” the authors state.

“This created political legacies that underpinned political competition and mobilization during the first multiparty elections.”


Like Moi, Zambia's single-party ruler Kenneth Kaunda warned that a return to multi-party elections would usher in chaos, violence and ethnic strife, the study points out. But the prediction came true only in Kenya.

That was because single-party rule had been more inclusive in Zambia than in Kenya, the study finds.

It notes that the political control exercised by Kaunda was based on a broader support base and involved efforts to bridge ethnic divisions.

Moreover, the main opposition party in Zambia's 1991 election could draw support from all ethnic groups, the study notes, while in Kenya the opposition was polarised along ethnic lines.

“In Zambia,” the authors assert, “the use of ethnically-hostile rhetoric was simply out of the question.”

“When comparing post-independence countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya was not at the extreme end of the exclusionary spectrum,” caution authors Johan Brosché, Hanna Fjelde and Kristin Höglund. “But it was significantly more exclusionary than Zambia.”


The results of the Kenyan and Zambian elections also differed markedly.

Moi and his Kanu party were victorious. Kaunda and his United National Independence Party were defeated and ceded power to challenger Frederick Chiluba.

In a background commentary published by a South Africa-based journal called The Conversation, the trio of Swedes explain that they sought to dig deeper than do standard analyses in identifying factors that lead to election violence.

Rather than focusing on the conditions immediately prior to and during an election, the Uppsala study examines the dynamics of governance in authoritarian eras and their role in determining whether elections turn violent.

The pattern traced in their analysis need not remain fixed, the authors suggest.


“Kenya's experience illustrates this. The level of violence has differed significantly in post-1992 elections. For instance there was large-scale post-election violence after the 2007/8 poll. But elections in 2002 and 2013 were significantly more peaceful.”

Zambia, by contrast, experienced election violence in 2016. In that country, the authors observe, “there has been a definite shift toward more authoritarianism.”

“There is also more intimidation of the opposition, and a breakdown of inter-party deliberation. As a result there are growing fears that the 2021 election will usher in violence.”