Election Violence threat in Kenya — my thoughts on NDI’s new warning 


1. NDI is right to warn of a risk of violence, highlighting the unprecedented level of division and tension in Kenya related to the competition for power in this election scheduled for August.

2.  Given that the Kenyan Government is led by politicians widely understood to have been major players in the killing and mayhem following the failure of the 2007 election — elevated to office on the basis of their status as tribal champions indicted by the ICC — #1 can hardly be any surprise.

3.  Further, the “reform agenda” intended to address the catastrophe of 2007-08 has long been diverted and shelved.  Zero accountability across the board for the previous election violence.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report was interfered with by the Executive, then shelved with so many other accumulated Kenyan commission reports gathering dust.  No accountability for the bribery of Election Commission members and officers in 2007 (in fact, a cover up), followed by impunity in the buyout of the IEBC last year after Chickengate and the failures of 2013.

4.  The main reform was the passage of the new Constitution of 2010, but in the hands of anti-reform politicians under no serious further international pressure, the main change is more offices to potentially fight over.  There has been some strengthening of some institutions and backsliding in others.  I think everyone agrees there is still widespread extrajudicial killing by police (the biggest cause of death in the PEV) and extensive corruption (which facilitated the collapse of the ECK).

5.  Certainly the performance of the KDF as well from Westgate to Somalia suggests a less disciplined force than most of us perceived in the 2007 and 2013 elections.

6.  Arguably the incumbent Kenyan Administration has more leverage over the US and UK governments now than Kibaki did in 2007.  Although in 2007 Kenya was a key security cooperator with the US on Al Shabaab, at this point the KDF is in Somalia on an indefinite basis, in part as a component of AMISOM in which the US and the UK are heavily invested, with the US now stepping up direct action against Al Shabaab.  In the meantime, South Sudan — the other “nation-building” project with its back office in Nairobi —  is really failing.  Conflict threatens in the DR Congo with Uganda and Rwanda pulling away from democratization progess as the potential threats and temptations may be increasing in the neighborhood.  Obviously it would be hard for the US or the UK, as well as for others, to “cry foul” over a situation like 2007 where the incumbent was not willing to be found to have lost re-election.

7.  It’s too early to know what the dynamics of the campaign will be and I am not closely in touch at all with the hidden backstories this time (like most outsiders, especially those not even living in Kenya this year).  It seems foolish for any of us to gamble much on prognostications or predictions, but the macro risk is surely great enough to warrant some soul searching and some planning.  Part of this is sobriety in recognizing that there is no time left for extensive reconciliation efforts or deeper institutional work that has eluded us over the years.

8.  Boris Johnson will have Kenya on his radar, for better or worse, but it’s hard to guess who outside of AFRICOM will really be engaged on Kenya at a senior level in the US Government before any election crisis, even though the risk is so much more widely recognized this time.  Pre-election funding is much greater than in 2007 but extra resources for a political crisis may be harder to rally.

9.  I remain of the belief that Kenya was not really “on the brink of civil war” in 2008 because such a large part of the violence was instrumental for political gain and none of the politicians would have benefited from a civil war.  In 2013, I agree that some level of optimism about institutions, mostly the Supreme Court, that we don’t necessarily see now had a lot to do with reducing violence, but a big factor was the mass security mobilization – it was understood that protestors would face police and military bullets and not many were willing to take an initiative in that direction.  The benefit of 2013 and the other problems with the institutions pre-election this year is that expectations are low — an openly stolen election would be far less of a shock than in 2007 and as in 2013 the State’s willingness to kill cannot be doubted.  On the other hand, if violence did break out inspite of these initial barriers it might be harder to temper and eventually end than in 2008.

Update: 13 April — See Muthoni Wanyeki’s latest column in The East African, Polls: the heat is rising, mayhem escalating,” for a look at the current temperature official behavior around the country.

 

Periodically, Westerners are reminded of the brutality and politicization of Kenya’s paramilitary police [updated 18 May]

But there is not much new under the gun in Kenyatta’s Kenya.  

Three years ago, Kenya’s Supreme Court noted the appearance of corruption in Kenya’s election commission and directed investigation and possible prosecution.  No action eventually led to protests which are being brutally suppressed as we speak because the incumbent regime is apparently very afraid of reform, and is reacting just as it has in the past, and each of its predecessors has.

We have no right whatsoever to claim to be surprised.

Update 17 May: Bernard Ngatia, who was shown on video being mercilessly beaten by police, died from the injuries.  Update 18 May: Unsurprisingly there is a lot of murk now about the details of the beating victim from the video and whether he did or didn’t die. We can hope the media will clarify; the same issue of a pattern and practice of police brutality to squelch political dissent confronts us as we hope that thisvictim survived.

From today’s statement from free expression supporters Article 19:

ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns yesterday’s killing of a protestor by police, and injury of others who had joined the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) politicians calling for the removal of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

ARTICLE 19 urges the police to respect Article 37 of the Constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to public authorities, as well as its obligations under international human rights law.

News from the Quakers in Kenya

I have been remiss in reporting on the peacekeeping efforts of the Quakers in western Kenya, so here is the full text of a new release from them this afternoon. The old Western Province is especially important to national politicians in this election because it contains most of the supporters of Deputy Prime Minister Mudavadi and his Amani coalition, which is the only major vote block associated with a “third party” campaign. Amani polls around 5% of the national vote total, whereas the CORD and Jubilee coalitions consistently poll in the mid-40s. Thus Amani supporters could be key in determining the winner of the expected runoff–alternatively, they are the one identifiable group that could move the first round to one of the two “horses” if they moved in lockstep.

Mudavadi is himself a Quaker.

March 1, 2013

Local Kenyans mobilize for active nonviolence ahead of elections

As fears of violence grow ahead of Kenya’s election on Monday (March 4th), thousands of people in the country are mobilizing to avoid a repeat of the post-election violence that shook Kenya in 2007 and left 1,200 dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In a coordinated, grassroots effort, Quakers from Kenya, the United States, and Britain have been equipping Kenyans to nonviolently demand justice and build a mass nonviolent witness for peaceful, transparent, free and fair elections. The three-pronged approach that combines civic education and dialogue, citizen reporting, and local peace building responses has resulted in numerous community-driven initiatives to defuse tensions, challenge hate speech and hold political aspirants to account.

Based on Quaker-initiatied programs called Turning the Tide, Alternatives to Violence, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, and Transformative Mediation, this initiative does not avoid conflict but rather challenges the causes of violence and helps Kenyans to build a just and peaceful future from the grassroots.

This community-driven program is supported by Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in partnership with three Kenya based organizations, Change Agents for Peace International (CAPI), Friends Church Peace Teams, and the African Great Lakes Initiative. Over 20,000 people in the country have received training in a massive “Know Your Rights’ campaign. At least 1,200 have become citizen reporters, raising the alarm when early warning signs of violence appear. Another 660 will serve as domestic election observers. A larger number has received voter education.

As a result, Kenyans are taking the initiative in their own communities. For example

* In Nairobi and Lugari, they have convinced candidates to participate in public debates – unusual in Kenya until now – and developed vetting mechanisms to hold local candidates to account. In Kenya, politics has been about ethnic affiliation, loyalty, bribery, poverty, inequality and intimidation. Now Kenyans are demanding that all candidates give clear policy commitments.
* In Langas (Eldoret), where pamphlets and hate speech were threatening inter-ethnic violence, women from different communities came together to organize a Women’s Peace Procession and made a public peace proclamation.
* In Mt. Elgon, when citizen reporters sent news that four people had been murdered there, and then a fifth was assassinated, community peace builders delivered a message of peace at the funeral of one of the victims and followed up with trauma healing and listening workshops in an ongoing effort to interrupt the cycle of revenge.

The work is based on Quakers’ trust in ordinary citizens to work out solutions and build peace for themselves. Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, have been promoting active nonviolence for three and a half centuries.

Benard L. Agona, Field Co-ordinator of Turning the Tide Programme in Kenya, said:
“We are seeing a new generation, a generation that are not sitting quietly any more, a generation who are coming together to resist injustice. We are also seeing a generation that wants to make informed decisions.”

Laura Shipler Chico, of Quaker Peace & Social Witness (QPSW) in Britain, said:
“These efforts are rooted in local communities. That is their strength. They are a long-term effort not only to prevent election violence but to challenge the systems and structures that give rise to violence to begin with. People have mobilized their own communities and the response has not come from outside but from deep within. This is a testimony to the Quaker notion that there is that of God in everyone; the answers lie within each of us.”

End

Notes to editor

* Quakers are known formally as the Religious Society of Friends. Kenya has the largest number of Quakers of any country in the world, with a total membership in the vicinity of 300,000. Their commitment to equality, justice, peace, simplicity and truth challenges them to seek positive social and legislative change.
See “KenyanElections2013.org”

What’s Going on in the Tana River Delta? [updated]

You know things are getting more on edge politically in Kenya as the media becomes more prone to euphemism and indirect language in writing about the stakes and the players in pre-election conflict.

The VOA today offers more clarity on the political interests in the most conspicuous current fight and “calls out” the presence of uniformed ethnic militia:

Though people on both sides have been killed, the majority of victims during the most recent violence have been Orma pastoralists. Survivors describe an organized Pokomo militia, wearing red and black uniforms and having a clear command structure.

“They are after this delta, it is the only good delta in Kenya, the only big delta in Kenya,” said Omar Bacha, an Orma health worker. “That is why our tribe are being killed, and their cows are being destroyed.”

The Tana River region contains some of the nation’s most arable, but least developed land. Through the process of devolution outlined in Kenya’s new constitution, local administrators soon will have more control over regional resources.

A Human Rights Watch report released last week implicates Tana River politicians in the attacks. Last week the government arrested parliament-member Dhadho Godhana in connection with the violence. Godhana is running for governor of Tana River Country in the elections scheduled for next March.

The Daily Maverick ties the Tana River violence into an especially bleak outlook for election violence in “Kenya: the cauldron of violence is hotting up again:

After the brazen attacks continued in September it was clear there was more to it than access to land and water. Kenya is six months out from a national election and political violence has marred the run-up to votes in 1992, 1997 and 2001. The Kenyan Red Cross warned the same might occur as communities arm themselves in preparation, voters come to terms with new demarcations pitting ethnic rivals against each other, and politicians cope with a new system of devolved power.

“It is 100% political,” said National Cohesion and Integration Commission Chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia, who was tasked with investigating the causes of violence. “One community wants to destabilise the area and block the community from registering as voters so that it does not influence voting in the coming election.”

Kibaki, whose response to the disaster made Jacob Zuma’s reaction to the Marikana killings look statesmanlike, acknowledged it was politically motivated this week by sacking an MP who had been charged with inciting violence. He blocked parliament’s move to send the army into the area, instead opting to deploy 2,000 General Service Unit police (think Tactical Response Team).

So far, security forces have shown a complete inability to deal with the threat. Despite warnings of violence, police have continually been outnumbered, outgunned, arrived late to the battles, or have been forced to simply watch on in horror. Inquiries into the post-election violence found they failed to act on warnings, and it seems they’re doomed to repeat their mistakes.

Update: AFP reports that Kenyan police Monday found a mass grave in the Garsen area where recent killings have taken place, suggesting the real death toll may be higher than reported so far.

Looking to Sudan’s Referendum Sunday

The Financial Times covers a new report from Global Witness that concludes that a new oil revenue sharing agreement is needed to prevent Sudan from returning to war:

The Khartoum government has yet to make good on an agreement on sharing oil wealth with southern Sudan, potentially jeopardising the fragile peace as the south’s population votes on whether to split the country in two, according to a report by Global Witness, the UK-based resource lobbyists.

The sharing of oil income, which accounts for half of state revenues in the north of Sudan and 98 per cent in the south, is among the thorniest issues as predominately Christian southerners prepare to vote on independence on Sunday. The south is widely expected to secede and emerge as Africa’s newest country.

. . . .

“Far less data is being published by the Sudanese government now than it was in 2008 and the first half of 2009, which even then was insufficient to be able to verify the oil revenue sharing,” said the report.

Yesterday, the US hailed the latest overtures from the Bashir government to indicate that it was prepared to allow the rerendum, and succession, to proceed peacefully:

The United States has led pressure on the Khartoum government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir not to impede the secession vote. Carson said Washington was “extraordinarily pleased” by Bashir’s statements on a trip to the south Sudan capital of Juba on Tuesday that Khartoum was ready to let the south go.

“We hope that the north … will live up to those very promising statements,” Carson said.

Bashir’s visit is the latest sign that the referendum, which many analysts earlier said threatened to spark a return to war between the north and the south, may unfold peacefully.

Key issues including borders, citizenship and the fate of the oil-rich region of Abyei remain to be decided, making the six-month transition period following the secession vote a potentially dangerous period.

U.S. officials are already working on a development plan for an independent south Sudan, which accounts for 70 percent of Sudan’s overall oil production.

The United States is ready to recognize the new government quickly and appoint an ambassador to help lead efforts to improve basic infrastructure, healthcare, and education as well as trade and investment, officials said.

“We anticipate ramping this up very quickly after the referendum,” said Larry Garber, the deputy administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on background, denied suggestions the United States was motivated primarily by a interest in south Sudan’s oil, which remains a key sticking point in dealings between Khartoum and Juba and which has been largely off limits to western oil companies thanks to U.S. sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997.

US officials also expressed confidence that political agreement would be reached on oil revenue and other economic issues and that the status of Abeyei is “longer a potential flashpoint for war,” such that they do not expect further “major violence”.

Here is this week’s roundup “As vote nears, Sudan’s south anticipates independence and problems” from Jeffrey Fleishman in the Los Angeles Times. And here is Rebecca Hamilton’s “Sudan Dispatch” in The New Republic.