Kenyans go to the polls today to elect their next president. Although there are a host of other officials to be elected, it is the presidency that captures the attention. The polls come after a long, gruelling and bruising campaign that started immediately after the last election five years ago. This is one of those things that mark Kenyan politics: permanent election mode. As Kenyan elections go, even to an outsider, this one has been typical: tension-filled, bare-knuckles contest, and insults and threats-laden. It wouldn’t be Kenyan if it was any other way. And so everyone is waiting for the outcome with bated breath. And when that is announced, there will be a loud collective sigh of relief and hopefully no violence. It is not Kenyans alone looking on anxiously. Their East African neighbours too. They have been watching the campaigns and election with a lot more than neighbourly curiosity. This unusual keenness is informed by several factors. Kenya is the region’s biggest economy. For many, it is the gateway of their exports and imports. They remember only too well the post-election violence of 2007/8 that severely disrupted their trade with the outside world and caused their businesses heavy losses. Add to that the long legal tussles that followed the last two elections and you can understand their anxiety. And so peace and stability in Kenya are crucial to the whole region. Judging from the way the campaign was conducted, it does appear as if there might be no violence this time around. That, of course, may be more wish than fact. Still, East Africans remain concerned and pray for a peaceful outcome. The animosity between the candidates, a feeling of betrayal by some of them or deep-seated grudge may yet turn the election ugly and create more uncertainty and worry. That we will know soon enough. However, even with the fractious politics and feisty, bitter contest that sometimes breaks into violence, one thing is certain. Kenya’s brand of democracy will deliver some sort of acceptable result even if it takes longer than planned or goes through some unusual ways. It is a uniquely Kenyan brand. Yes, there are political parties, but don’t talk about ideology. Parties exist because the electoral law makes them the only legal platform for political contest. They are more a vehicle for canvassing for votes and less associations of people with similar ideology or views on how to manage society. Nor can you talk of a sense of permanency of the parties. They are likely to mutate and re-align as often as it is necessary to challenge for power. The only constant factor is the leader. What passes for political parties are in fact ethnic or regional organisations, none national or big enough to win power on its own. And so they build coalitions that will bring in the expected numbers for them to win. As soon as power has been obtained or the bid for it lost, the coalitions begin to come apart. Fissures appear and grow wider until they are unbridgeable. Leaders of component parties begin to quarrel about one thing or another and soon their differences become irreconcilable. It is easy to see why this happens. It is the manner and purpose for which coalitions were formed in the first place. They are usually cobbled together for the sole purpose of winning power, not necessarily of governing. They are built around the strength (or weakness) or reputation of their principals, not on political principles or agreed policies. The Kenyan brand of democracy seems to work for them. They appear to have accepted the reality of ethnic or regional politics and play by its demands. Most may not like it, indeed, some scoff at it, but it is the reality in which they have to operate. There can be no claim of any ideological or even policy differences between the parties or coalitions because there are none. The only differences are the personalities at the helm of each. This brand seems to have another characteristic that seems to run counter to the actual practice of electoral politics in the country. The entity called Kenya appears to remain paramount. Politicians will contest vigorously, and sometimes viciously, for power, but all in the name of Kenya. And when they are done, or as is actually the case, there is a pause, they turn their attention to the country. The primary loyalty of the majority may be to their ethnic group or region, but they reserve some allegiance to the nation called Kenya. Dual allegiance is not necessarily divided loyalty. Some sort of balance seems to have been struck. That goes to prove a point Rwandans have been making for a long time. Democracy is contextual. Its rules and practice reflect the specific context of a given society. When it changes, they also do. For the moment that seems to be working just fine for Kenyans. As interested neighbours we can only wish them a peaceful election and best outcome for the country. The views expressed in this article are of the writer.