New Internationalist

KENYA VOTES: Risk of election violence ‘unacceptably high’

Web exclusive

As the polls loom, Moses Wasamu looks at the potential implications of a fiercely contested vote, including candidates accused of crimes against humanity.

Kenya goes to the polls on 4 March 2013. As in 2007, this presidential race has generated a lot of anxiety among voters. In 2007, 1,300 people died and thousands more were displaced as a result of post-election violence.

This time round, two main political formations have emerged. The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) is led by current Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka as presidential candidate and running mate respectively. They are up against the Jubilee Coalition of Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto.

Moses Wasamu
A man reading campaign posters on a wall in Kibera, Nairobi Moses Wasamu

Uhuru and Ruto, along with two others, currently face charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for crimes committed during post-election violence in Kenya during 2007-08. Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s first president, the late Jomo Kenyatta. In the 2007 elections, Uhuru and Ruto were on opposite sides of the political divide.

The 2013 elections are likely to be fiercely contested and polarized. Analysts have expressed fears about the formation of coalitions along ethnic lines. Odinga comes from the Luo community, while Kenyatta comes from the most populous ethnic group, the Kikuyu. The two groups clashed after the last election and compete fiercely for political domination. In 2007, the competition was between Odinga and Mwai Kibaki, another Kikuyu.

The election of Uhuru and Ruto would be likely to have serious diplomatic repercussions for Kenya. The British envoy to the country, Christian Turner, has said that it is the policy of Britain and other European countries not to have contact with ICC indictees. This means that the British government may review its relationship with Kenya should the two get elected.

Moses Wasamu
Women peace ambassadors in a demonstration in Kibera Moses Wasamu

Last month, a group of NGOs in Kenya released a report warning against the candidature of the two suspects, saying it will render the country ‘leaderless’ if they win in the elections and have to attend trial at The Hague. To overcome this hurdle, the report adds, the president may be tempted to defy the ICC.

In a report to the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think-tank, Professor Joel Barkan says that any breakdown of the electoral process and political order in Kenya is likely to have major economic consequences in the region and will jeopardize other US objectives, specifically, preventing Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, and nurturing peace between Sudan and South Sudan.

Barkan adds that going by previous elections, a closely fought race is likely to be accompanied by violence between Kikuyus, who will mostly vote for Kenyatta, and Luos, who will mostly vote for Odinga.

Another possibility is that there will be violence led by supporters of Uhuru and Ruto against perceived Odinga’s supporters should the Kenyan government arrest the two and send them to the ICC.

Moses Wasamu
Erick Matsanza, a civic candidate, registers to vote Moses Wasamu

In 2012, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that the election of either Uhuru or Ruto may not be in Kenya’s interest. This warning was issued soon after former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while on a visit to Kenya last August, was quoted as saying that suspects facing criminal charges should not be allowed to vie for the presidency. She added that if they were voted in, the US might find it difficult to work with them.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has released a report warning that ‘the risk of political violence is still unacceptably high’ and that the ICC cases will shape the political competition.

At the beginning of February 2013, there was violence in different parts of the country after primary voting took place for different political parties. Some, like Erick Matsanza from Lugari in the western part of the country, predict that this unrest could be a precursor of what is likely to happen after the 4 March polls.

As a result, those areas where violence occurred during the party nominations have been marked as hotspots by the police. The Inspector General of Police said security operations in those areas will be boosted to avert outbreaks of violence during the election.

Moses Wasamu
Moses Omondi leads a peace demonstration in Kibera, Nairobi Moses Wasamu

But in the midst of all this, there are plenty of people working hard to see that peace prevails. Several initiatives have been set up, the most prominent being the ‘TUVUKE Initiative’ (Let us Cross Over), ‘Mkenya Daima’ (Kenyan Forever), as well as many others that are more community-based.

Moses Omondi, a community mobilizer in Kibera, Nairobi, says that he is optimistic that the elections would be peaceful. ‘The only challenge is the ICC cases, which some people claim are politically motivated,’ he says.

Moses is part of the district peace committee that moved in fast to preach peace in Kibera when violence broke about after the primaries. He adds that the signs of violence are not good, and that peace ambassadors need to help calm the situation and give hope to the people.

Join us for our live blog ‘Kenya Votes’, during the presidential polls on 4 March 2013. We will be working with Radar and citizen journalists reporting on events from all over the country, via SMS.

Comments on KENYA VOTES: Risk of election violence ‘unacceptably high’

Leave your comment