Why be concerned about election violence with the Kenyan referendum?

It seems to me that there are several obvious reasons.

Most basic is the simple fact that since Moi relenquished de jure one-party KANU control, there has been significant violence in each national election that was close (the 2002 presidential election was a landslide and featured Moi fronting a Kikuyu standard bearer who was not strong in Central Province against a Kikuyu establishment figure supported by Raila Odinga–in other words, a sui generis “perfect calm”; likewise the 2005 Referendum was not especially close and followed the 2002 general.) The “usual suspects” from 1992, 1997 and 2007 are still in power in government and business and have ample resources available.

There has been no meaningful progress yet in regard to the “culture of impunity”. The Government of National Unity has not delivered a local tribunal to address the crimes layed out in the Waki Commission report. The ICC process is still hoped for, but has not resulted in indictments of anyone to date and the key people expected to someday face the ICC are very much players in the GNU today and will be for the forseeable future.

The “Truth and Reconciliation” process was politically stillborn in terms of doing anything that would have changed the dynamic of tension for this election.

The Waki Commission report shows that the Kenyan intelligence service knew about significant issues of likely planned violence ahead of the 2007 election, but action was not taken to stop it. No explanation of this has been provided, nor are there obvious reforms implemented to make sure that the same situation (whatever it was) is not repeated.

Corruption is more entrenched than ever, in the sense that no real action has been delivered in response to even the new, and in some cases, particularly outrageous scandals coming from the Government of National Unity–much less anything about Goldenburg and Anglo Leasing and all the many, many other scams that have created pools of ill gotten gains that can be reinvested in politics as needed.

Even the newspapers have reported ethnic threats in the Rift Valley, and ethnic rhetoric is clearly being employed. To the baseline of ethnic tension, and ethnic division within religious groups that was a problem in 2007 has been added an increase in tension between many churches and the State over views or interpretations related to the khadi’s courts and abortion. These is always some baseline of tension between many Muslims and the State, but now there seem to be attempts to drive a much greater wedge between Muslims and Christians themselves at a grassroots level.

I could go on.

To top it off, it was clear by last fall that there was a significant ramping up of the flow of guns and ammunition into areas where there had been violence featuring more “traditional” weapons in 2008. And six people were killed by two grenades in Uhuru Park as the campaign kicked off.

This is not a prediction of violence–but rather an assessment that all the necessary ingredients are there. By all means we should hope for the best and pray for peace. But we should also be mindful of the danger and the United States as a major donor and “ally” should not be caught off guard. We know how much suffering election violence can cause. Foolish complacency is the hobgoblin of little hearts.

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