As images of increasingly boisterous political rallies are broadcast from Kenya, just days before the country goes to the polls, there is another, less conspicuous, movement taking place – that of people fleeing their homes in fear that the violence which wracked the country after the 2007 election will be repeated.
Gender-based violence was rife following the social breakdown during the crisis of 2007-08. Women and girls living in displacement camps were at high risk of rape and sexual abuse.
Ahead of 2013’s election on Monday 4 March, measures have been put in place to prevent violence breaking out again. But the threat of ethnic allegiances stoked by fervent political campaigning and, in some cases, illegal hate speech remains, for many, a real one.
Radar, an NGO that trains and supports networks of citizen reporters from under-represented social groups, has already received reports of rapidly increasing tensions and fear forcing women to take the decision to forfeit their vote and leave. For some, especially if they are single and the sole carer for their children, the risks of staying are too high.
However, others feel duty-bound to stay and are willing to risk doing so in order to participate in the democratic process. Preparing for the worst but hoping for the best, for some the safety of home and the community is preferable to fleeing somewhere new.
In the coastal city of Mombasa during the week leading up to the election, reports have surfaced of hate speech leaflets being circulated. Tensions in the area are already heightened by the work of secessionist movement the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC).
Here, two Radar trainees from Mombasa explain their own personal decisions. One will flee across the border to Tanzania – the fear for her and her baby’s safety too much to bear. The other will stay, exercise her right to vote and seek protection within her family.
Will you take flight?
Phoebe Matsika, 32, lives in Likoni in Kenya’s coastal region.
‘I need to vote because it’s my right. I have to vote for the right person because if I run away, I’ll still have to come back and will just find people have already decided for me and that’s not what I want.
‘I believe there’ll be no chaos this time round because people have learned from the last election and there has been a lot of civic education.
‘The people I’m living around are the same people as when I was a child. We treat others as sisters and brothers. I don’t see how we can kill our own.
‘I live in Likoni, which is friendly. I feel safe there as there are so many people from different ethnicities mixed up in the community. I’m not married but all my family live in Likoni, including my parents, two sisters and six brothers, so they protect me.
‘If there’s violence we’d just stay indoors. I won’t move out until it’s more secure. It’s better than running to somewhere you don’t know. Last time there was looting and robbing of shops.
‘Coast people are Muslims and they follow their religion so they really respect their women. So rape rarely happens. It’s more important to vote; even if you run away, you have to come back again. It’s your country and you are the one who should decide what person you want in power.’
Sidi Sarro, 32, lives in Mombasa with her seven-month-old baby.
‘I wish I could vote but I am afraid to. I don’t want to experience what I did in the last elections. I am a single parent and if there is chaos like last time I am afraid I’ll have no one to protect me and my son. I am thinking of crossing over to Tanzania where I shall stay until the elections are over. I have relatives there and I’d rather go while I still can, because last time the borders had been closed. I was in Kajiado then and even though we were not directly affected by the violence which erupted, we could not get food or even go out.
‘I love my country and am patriotic but I am afraid for our safety. I pray and hope that there won’t be trouble, but I can’t take any chances. My son is the only one I have. I hope for a better Kenya for him.
‘I come from a family which has intermarried with other communities such as the Luo, Kamba, Kikuyu, Luhya, Swahili, Mijikenda, Taita and even Italians and Germans. My son is Kisii so I believe my family represents most of the major tribes in Kenya. Even my grandparents intermarried; we are a rainbow family. How then, can I sit and watch should we turn against each other?
‘Actually, I don’t know which tribe my family is except that we are Kenyans. For this reason, for my family, my son and our safety, I will leave – even if it means not voting.
‘Yes, I am running away… maybe I am a coward, but it is better to be safe than sorry.’
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.