Kenya is a republic with a strong president who is both chief of state and head of government. In December 2007 the country held general elections. Observers judged the parliamentary and local elections to be generally free and fair. In the presidential election, however, incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, was proclaimed the winner by a narrow margin under controversial circumstances. The main opposition party, the Orange Democratic Movement, protested the result, claiming its candidate, Raila Odinga, had won. Observers concluded that, while the voting and counting process generally met democratic standards in most areas of the country, there were serious irregularities in both opposition and progovernment strongholds and in the tallying of results by the Electoral Commission of Kenya in Nairobi. These irregularities undermined the credibility of the presidential election result. The announcement that President Kibaki had won led to civil unrest that resulted in more than 1,000 deaths and the displacement of more than 600,000 citizens. An African Union (AU) mediation process led by Kofi Annan led to the formation of a coalition government and, in March 2008, a constitutional amendment to create the post of prime minister. The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens or attempted to institute reforms to address deficiencies. However, serious problems remain that predate the political crisis, including: unlawful killings, physical abuse, and use of excessive force by police; police impunity; harsh and life‑threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; prolonged pretrial detention; executive influence on the judiciary; incidents of disrespect for freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the press; government corruption; abuse of and discrimination against women; female genital mutilation (FGM); child prostitution and labor; trafficking in persons; vigilante justice; interethnic violence; and lack of enforcement of workers' rights.
The U.S. government has made promotion of democratic principles and human rights a top priority. The United States supports activities aimed at fostering democracy and good governance by facilitating free, fair, and credible elections; reducing and ultimately eliminating corruption; strengthening the watchdog capacity of civil society, parliament, and the media; and promoting gender equity, among other issues.
In advance of the December 2007 elections, the United States supported programs for improved electoral administration, citizen awareness and voter education, political party development, training for female candidates, and election observation and media monitoring. The ambassador and other U.S. officials also met frequently with government officials, political leaders, civil society, and the media to encourage them to ensure that campaigning and polling for the 2007 general elections were peaceful. More than 170 U.S. embassy personnel observed the elections, by far the largest resident diplomatic observation mission. In the post-election crisis, the U.S. ambassador spoke out forcefully against the lack of transparency in the vote-tallying process and other irregularities in the weeks following the elections, while repeatedly calling for nonviolence and a political solution. The U.S. Secretary of State and the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs traveled to the country as part of international mediation efforts to resolve the crisis. The United States funds reconciliation programs in the violence-torn Rift Valley. In 2008 the United States sent letters to 13 individuals warning that their visa status could be affected by their suspected involvement in either instigating ethnic violence or undermining democratic institutions by participating in election fraud.
U.S. programs assist parliament to become a more effective counterweight to the historically dominant executive branch. U.S. programs continue to contribute to a more open and participatory budget process and to improving parliament's leadership on corruption-related issues. The United States funds programs assisting the oversight committees that shadow government ministries and play a watchdog role. U.S. programs also target the committees addressing policy issues critical to achieving the overall U.S. democracy strategy. A U.S. democracy-building program complements and strengthens other ongoing U.S. assistance to the parliamentary committees. The United States continues to assist the long-term constitutional, legal, institutional, and land reform processes that are expected as an outcome of the post-election crisis mediation effort and has pledged support to the secretariat being formed under the aegis of the AU mediation effort to implement these reforms. The U.S. embassy will also allocate increased funding to civil society groups to advance human rights, democratization, and peace-building goals.
The United States continues to assist the country in developing a freer media. In 2007 experts traveled to the country for a seminar to train journalists in investigative journalism techniques, which carried over into more effective reporting of the post-election crisis and the mediation.