Overshadowing Kenya's 4 March presidential election is the ethnic violence that followed the last election in 2007. The contest has been marred by secret agreements between candidates; new political parties created out of thin air; lawsuits filed, dropped and re-filed; and questions about the competence and integrity of the leading candidates and the political system as a whole.

The run-up to the 4 March Kenyan presidential election has been marked by more political drama than a Nigerian soap opera: secret agreements between candidates; new political parties created out of thin air; shifting alliances; lawsuits filed, dropped and re-filed; delays in voter registration; and questions about the competence and integrity of the leading candidates and the political system as a whole.

Overshadowing the contest – which has more to do with ethnic power politics than with ideologies or policies – is the ethnic violence that followed the last election in 2007. Between 1,300 and 1,500 people were killed and 300,000–600,000 were internally displaced. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, the leading presidential and vice presidential candidates in the coming poll, have been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with crimes against humanity for their role in the 2007–08 unrest.

The country has been relatively stable since the last crisis, and much has been done to prevent fresh violence this time. However, the underlying causes have not been fully addressed. Recent ethnic conflict in Coast Province, political violence in Kisumu and deepening ethnic mistrust across the country suggest the possibility of further troubles. Given Kenya's role as a regional economic, transport and diplomatic hub, this could destabilise a fragile region.

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