Its a sad fact that in recent Kenya elections, policy has played an insignificant role in determining voters’ choices. The outcomes have been largely predictable on the basis of simple ethnic mathematics. Ethnocentrism in Kenya is a factor leading to a weaker sense of national patriotism. This has continued to influence voting patterns leading to alleged political discrimination.
Kenya’s deep social and political cleavages, weak institutions, historical grievances, political exclusion and marginalization, leave the legitimacy of elections open to question. And that, coupled with high unemployment rates in the country, large populations living in urban slums, disputed border conflicts, political incitement, crime and poverty, among other challenges, increases the country’s risk of conflict unfolding and escalating. There is no denying the reality of progressive development occurring but it often seems to pale into insignificance alongside the issues of infrastructure insecurity that need to be addressed in order to empower people to meet their basic human needs and actualize their potential.
The 2013 elections and smooth transition of government was an upbeat departure from the widespread violence that followed announcement of the election results in 2007 — widespread carnage fuelled by negative ethnic politics that left 1,250 people dead, 60,000 maimed and 600,000 displaced.
Now the long awaited general election 2017 is just around the corner, and the prospect are worrisome. The party primaries, held in May 2017, witnessed accusations of attempted candidate assassinations, and threats, coercion and intimidation of opponents, voters and electoral officials.
As the country draws closer to the August 8th poll, allegations of impunity for wrong-doing are bubbling, and there seems to be a lack of respect for the enforcement of the law among some of the political class. There is increasing tension, and fears of violence are emerging due to the high stakes at the county and national levels.
Threatening the credibility of the upcoming general elections is the questionable capacity of the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) to handle the situation adequately, given the limited experience of the commissioners, who assumed office just eight months ago, a perceived lack of impartiality, and a dubious ability to enforce laws that bar ineligible individuals from participating in the vote. There are also perceptions of electoral malpractices, militarization of state interventions, anticipation of violent police crack-downs, corruption scandals at national levels and deeply rooted negative ethnicity.
Elections can sow the seeds of good governance when adequately managed. And improving tolerance between the ethnic divides can help. This is a main objective of the Nairobi-based Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR).
Founded to end the cycle of protracted conflict in the horn of Africa, the SCCRR works to strengthen local capacities to engage in free and fair democratic elections while enhancing the protection of vulnerable citizens and communities. At the core of the process is the empowerment of local communities to be not only resilient but also to be the architects of their own security, ensuring their voice is heard without violence emerging.
SCCRR has achieved this through training in peacebuilding; for example, understanding the principles of credible elections, analyzing the roles of manipulative power, errant systems, corruption, election malpractices, prevention of election violence, strengthening and holding to account local institutions which have responsibility for the implementation of proper procedures. SCCRR engages in this work in collaboration with state institutions, universities, civil society organizations and key influential opinion shapers in seeking a lasting solution to peace.
SCCRR’s interventions focus, in part, on fostering trust and cooperation between communities, enhancing conflict transformation skills, techniques and response mechanisms to overt conflict. The organization holds that effective early warning systems are irrefutable prerequisites for conflict prevention. Knowing who, what, where, when and why conflict is likely to occur is ultimately a precondition for timely response that would register greater positive impact on prevention of electoral violence. Core capacities and successful strategies that are identified across communities are based on rigorous evidence-based research that further informs SCCRR`s response mechanisms.
Since 2016 SCCRRs interventions have making a significant contribution towards prevention of election related violence. We have conducted 60 workshops in former hotspots of violence throughout the country, for example in Nakuru, Kuresoi, Njoro, Molo, Naivasha, Rongai and Nakuru town. In Nairobi, we facilitated workshops in Kibera, Mathare and Kariobangi slums.
In Samburu, we have trained in Suguta Marmar, Baragoi, Tuum, Wamba and Maralal. We also conducted workshops in Tana River, Wenje, Embu (Ishiara), and Moyale/Sololo, as well as many other locations among the Turkana, Pokot and Nyangatom communities. Overall, the organization works in nine different conflict zones in the semi-arid area where Kenya interfaces with Uganda, South Sudan, Ilemi Triangle, Ethiopia and Somalia. SCCRR is also engaged in rigorous research on 11 broader inter-ethnic conflicts in East Africa.
SCCRR capability has been recognized internationally, regionally, and by the government of Kenya and other institutions for taking widespread, bold and professional steps which substantially contributed to the peaceful March 2013 elections. The organization is deeply committed to fostering peaceful coexistence and will continue to support various stakeholders with the relevant techniques. This will ensure that all involved expand their understanding of conflict dynamics, context, nature and methodologies and pro-actively design appropriate conflict prevention mechanisms. Along with our persistent interventions, we are all praying for a peaceful Kenya, before, during and after the election. Shalom (SCCRR) is ever present with and for the people.
By Rev. Patrick Devine, Ph.D, and Peter Linus Odote, Ph.D