Navigating ethnicity and electoral politics in northern Kenya: The case of the 2013 election

Neil Carrier*, Hassan H. Kochore

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


In the 2013 elections, northern Kenya - previously seen as peripheral to national politics - took on great significance as a potential 'swing' region, and became the focus of much campaigning and strategizing by presidential and other candidates. It was also seen as a region especially at risk of violence given its history of ethnic politics and the new context of the devolved county system. This paper explores how the north's ethnic dynamics played out in 2013, looking in particular at case studies of three northern counties: Isiolo, Mandera and Marsabit. It traces the history of ethnic politics in these counties, and the strategies used to secure votes in 2013 through strategic alliance formation, exclusionary politics and the anointing of candidates by 'councils of elders'. While such strategies were not uniformly successful, they led to a remarkable swing to the Jubilee Alliance of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in Mandera. Ruto's United Republican Party did especially well in the north, and he appears to have navigated the ethnic and clan politics of the north expertly, playing up his pastoralist background as he did so. While a success for Jubilee, the ethnic strategizing has had serious ramifications, especially in Mandera and Marsabit where exclusion has led to resentment and conflict.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-152
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • clan
  • devolution
  • elections
  • ethnicity
  • identity
  • northern Kenya


Dive into the research topics of 'Navigating ethnicity and electoral politics in northern Kenya: The case of the 2013 election'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this