How to get over the pain of defeat in the elections

Losers suffer drastic fall in status and influence, while supporters grieve

In Summary

• It's quite challenging to be in a world where one's strongly held views are repudiated

A composite image of Raila Odinga and William Ruto
A composite image of Raila Odinga and William Ruto

There's an anecdote from the 2017 elections about a county governor who took his mobile phone to a repair shop soon after the polls concluded.

At the shop, the politician asked a technician to find out what was wrong with the device because calls were not coming through. On running a diagnostics check, the technician did not find anything wrong with the politician's phone. Why then was it not ringing?

The phone was silent because the man had lost the election. With the election results announced, the man's status changed from governor to former governor. He was no longer of any use to the many people who previously called on him for help. Nobody was calling to seek favours. Nobody was calling for small talk. No bothersome journalists seeking comment on county government projects.

The sudden onset of silence was a shock to a man who hardly knew a moment of peace since he was sworn in four years earlier. His former subordinate staff in the county government were more interested in the new governor than in checking on their former boss. It is during such trying moments that one discovers his or her true friends.

Only 11.7 per cent of the 16,100 aspirants in the just-concluded elections will be declared winners. 1,882 high-paying, influential elective seats are at stake. The seats include the presidency, county governor, senator, member of the national assembly, county woman representative and member of the county assembly.

Political aspirants who were in government or state corporations were obliged to resign at least six months before the August 9 polls. With voting concluded, many of them face an uncertain future looking for new employment.

A few lucky individuals may get nominated into Parliament or the county assemblies. Others will eventually get appointed to national government institutions. In reality, the vast most of unsuccessful election aspirants will have to use their wit in finding a means of livelihood as they contemplate the next steps.


The delegations of visitors that camped at the aspirants' homes these past few months will decline to a trickle. Meetings and hectic campaign schedules are no more. There have been reports of unsuccessful aspirants battling depression long after previous elections were concluded. A similar pattern could emerge after this year's elections unless the aspirants know how to cope with the loss.

Politicians who were in office but lost out this year face a tougher adjustment. Without an official role, they must find something else to occupy their time. The loss of a six-figure salary presents challenges, too. This is why there have been several attempts by Parliament to pass laws that ensure lifetime benefits for members who lose their seats. Such proposals have drawn public anger, with parliamentarians accused of selfishness.

It's not only the unsuccessful aspirants who have to cope with election results. Their supporters too experience emotional turmoil, now officially described as "post-election grief". Signs of which include a persistent sense of gloom, anger and denial.

Fred Luskin, a lecturer at Stanford University, says candidates and their supporters invest lots of passion, energy and time promoting their point of view. "If you find out the other side has won, it is a loss which needs to be grieved, and it creates a tremendous amount of vulnerability," Luskin explains.

"It's quite challenging to be in a world where one's strongly held views are repudiated," he says. "When we have to coexist with someone who has a different point and their point of view is victorious, it's hard."

In a country where ethnicity determines political party loyalty, election results reflect ethnic differences. The person opposed to your views is not just an electoral competitor but an ethnic rival. These ethnic differences largely explain why most elections held since the return of multiparty democracy in 1992 had various degrees of inter-ethnic violence. The worst of the violence erupted soon after the 2007 General Election. The violence abated in April 2008 after international mediators convinced the top two presidential contenders of the time, Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, to form a coalition government.  

The Commission of Inquiry into the 2008 Post-Election Violence acknowledged the links between ethnicity and the acceptability or rejection of election results. Foremost, almost every Kenyan wants his or her ethnic group to win the presidency to ensure access to state resources and goods.

"This also has led the public to believe a person from their tribe must be in power, both to secure for them benefits and as a defensive strategy to keep other ethnic groups from taking jobs, land and entitlements," reads part of the commission's report. The desire by politicians to get close to the presidency explains the frantic coalition-making that occurs just before elections.

Kenya is not the only country where both leaders and their supporters struggle with unexpected election results. In January 2021, the world watched in shock as supporters of former US President Donald Trump stormed the US Congress. Their goal was to stop the final ratification of results from the election held in November 2020. Trump had not accepted the election results, which showed he had lost to Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden.

Pro-Trump rioters vandalised Congress buildings, but that did not stop representatives from ratifying the presidential election results. Trump and his associates are currently under investigation for their role in what has been described as an attempted coup.

As our Kenyan athletes have taught us, any worthy winner will first congratulate a worthy unsuccessful competitor
Archbishop Martin Kivuva


The conduct of election winners can play a big role in diffusing post-election grief in the opposing camp. Archbishop Martin Kivuva, chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, says unmeasured celebrations or mayhem do not advance the democratic space Kenyans are enjoying.

"As our Kenyan athletes have taught us, any worthy winner will first congratulate a worthy unsuccessful competitor," Kivuva said in a statement. "We know it is not possible for all candidates to emerge winners. For every elective seat, there will be only one winner." The Archbishop called for modesty and respect from victorious aspirants.

If you know someone who was gunning for political office in the just-concluded elections but did not succeed, be kind to him or her. The same applies to those who lost their seats. Be there for them so they don't feel ignored or abandoned. Encourage them to maintain an active social life as they contemplate whether or not to participate in the next elections.

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