Developing countries do tend to see more election-time violence, according to one 2005 study, but they also tend to have the kinds of poor economic conditions
and weak governmental institutions that are likelier to result in post-voting rampages.
Previously, Kenya's political system didn't grant much power to anyone but the president -- the same guy who had just been accused of
stealing the election.
The last election's carnage was so extreme that it launched a flurry of studies and reports centered on how to prevent it the next time around. Here are a
few of the circumstances that some experts say can spark election violence -- in Kenya and elsewhere:
1. Unclear election results that aren't credible
The unrest in Kenya began in December 2007, when Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner and his main opponent, Raila Odinga, claimed there had been countless
instances of vote-rigging. It had been the closest election in Kenya's history.
"One of the issues is that people went to bed the last time thinking one side had won and they woke up the next day and the other side had won," said Bill
Sweeney, the president of IFES, which provides technical assistance for elections. "There was very little transparency in the process, which gave rise to the tensions in the
society. There remain lots of conspiracy theories as to what happened."
That might sound like a familiar problem -- the 2000 U.S. election was also famously extremely close, strongly disputed and involved some voting
irregularities (hanging chads, anyone?) But unlike the U.S., Kenya lacked a strong judiciary to resolve the issue.
The problem was, Kenya's political system previously just didn't grant much power to anyone but the president, the same guy who had just been accused of
stealing the election.
"All institutional organs outside the presidency were seen as compromised and unable to resolve things," said Boston University African Studies Center
researcher Susanne Mueller, who has studied Kenya's politics. "Civil servants and various arms of government understood how their bread was buttered and
tended to defer to the president."
This time Kenyan officials had installed a credible chief justice, Willy Mutunga, to oversee the voting -- although he's also reportedly received death threats for attempting
to ensure peaceful, fair elections.
2. A system where the winner "takes all"
Kenyan political parties operate around personalities, rather than ideologies. The "big man" -- the candidate -- is a vehicle for his own party or ethnic
group, according to Mueller. The country also has what's called "zero-sum ethnic politics," which means supporters of losing parties don't see opponent
victories as a win for the other side -- they see it as a loss for themselves and their ethnic group.
"If you as a Kikuyu win, I feel that I as a Luo lose," Mueller explained, referring to two of Kenya's ethnicities.