Rising violence and insecurity as Kenya’s general elections approach
Author: Patrick Mugo Mugo
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 01/09/2013
It’s that time again in Kenya when the political elite gets to “choose the voter”, who will in turn elect them, come March 4, 2013. Within a democracy, voters should elect the leaders of their choice, but the craftiness or deviousness of the political class, and in particular the Kenyan political elites, has over time reversed this democratic principle to suit certain interests.
(Igah, November, 21, 2012)
In an effort to maintain the political equilibrium, Kenya’s political elites and their subjects have resorted to the unleashing of violence or intimidation with the objective of spreading fear. Jackie Klopp of Columbia University argues that “violence produces a fear that undermines rational thinking”, something the Kenyan political elites seems to understand very well, and exploits on a need-to-need basis. The object is to determine who gets to vote and who doesn’t. If that doesn’t work, then rigging is employed, and should all this fail, then we can expect the ‘stealing’ of elections as we witnessed in Kenya in 2007, Zimbabwe in 2008, and to some extent in Ivory Coast in 2010/2011. After the fallout of the 2007 elections, which included the International Criminal Court (ICC) seeking to prosecute some over the violence, Kenyans could be forgiven for hoping that the 2013 electoral cycle would be peaceful.
Among the coalitions seeking the presidency is one that brings together two key suspects of the 2007/08 post-election violence. The coalition announced on December 2, 2012 brings together Uhuru Kenyatta of TNA and William Ruto, both facing charges at International Criminal Court for their alleged role in the violence. Prime Minister Raila Odinga heads the other coalition, announced on December 4, 2012. The two coalitions are a consequence of the ICC drive to prosecute “those bearing greatest responsibility” for the 2007/08 post-election violence that claimed 1,133 people’s lives (CIPIEV, October 15th, 2008), an event that pushed Kenya to the precipice of civil conflict. Kenyan seasoned political commentator Macharia Gaitho is perhaps best at explaining the current situation, as he tries to make sense out of a Saturday (December 1, 2012) of great ramification to the 2013 general election landscape:
[…] ICC suspects Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were at the Afraha grounds in Nakuru (Rift Valley region) unveiling a political union they hope will propel them to State House in an election they want to turn into a referendum against the International Criminal Court. In Mombasa (Coast region), Prime Minister Raila Odinga was at Tononoka for a rally widely expected to have him introduce Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka as his running-mate. Tononoka and Afraha were not just about political campaigns, the unveiling of alliances and policies and programmes. The only ideologies on display at both rallies were anger and hatred. From Tononoka, I heard the Afraha gathering dismissed as “siafu” (safari ants or termites), a stark reminder of the language preceding the Rwanda genocide where the Tutsi minority was likened to cockroaches set only for extermination. It also reminded me of the “madoadoa” (blotches) used as a code-word against “outsiders” from the inception of the ethnic-cleansing programme in the Rift Valley in early 1990s which culminated in the 2007-2008 post-election violence. The language used and the mood evident at both the Tononoka and Afraha rallies was positive proof that our so-called leaders have never learnt their lessons [see cartoon below for insights]. They will still be reckless enough to incite their followers to violence against any persons or groups that they think might block their path to power and privilege (Gaitho, December 4, 2012).
Here we can revisit Professor Mkandawire’s argument that “around election time, one of the problems we are faced with in Africa is that many leaders seems to think the issue is not voters choosing leaders, but rather leaders choosing voters” (2008). In practice, this approach of “choosing voters”, as Mkandawire makes clear, entails the introduction of criteria to exclude certain individuals or groups.
(Igah, November, 23, 2012)
“Choosing voters” has become a winning strategy and, in view of Mkandawire, such “practices have become prevalent with the advent of democracy, leading some to blame democracy for fomenting identity politics” (2008). Yet democracy itself is less at fault than a “group of élites competing for the control of state power and consequent access to certain material resources” (Hansen, 1988, p.13, cited in Bangura & McCandless, 2007, p.44):
[…]African leaders exhibit a wide array of unethical ways when it comes to the capturing, retention and exercising of political power, the long-term result being the tendency of by a people denied the right to a free choice of their leaders to write electoral lists in blood (Mkandawire, 2008).
If most Kenyans were given a chance, they might not have kind’s words about “democracy” and may opt to do without general elections at all. After all, the general election in Kenya has now become a matter of life and death and the subsequent pursuit is not democracy, but something else, something very ugly, making Kanyinga, Okello and Akech start asking the hard questions:
[…] clearly, therefore African elections are heavily bloobstained and destablizing. Do we need to add elections to poverty, ignorance and disease as a major factor that imperils Africa’s future? (2010, p.1)
Kenyans and the “Inevitable Cliff”
In effort to comprehend apprehensions over the future of Kenya, one has to look into the recent past. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 412 people lost their lives, 258 injured and 112,000 displaced in Kenya in September, October, and November of 2012. The report titled Kenya: 2012 Inter-Communal Conflict by District attributes the violence to what it calls as “localised clashes” owing to “competition over land resources and the on-going process of political devolution”, also mentioning cattle rustling in certain areas. Institution like the Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention paints a gloomy picture for Kenya when it comes to a post-2013 election scenario, and blames “strained and rivalry-prone and cultural relationships between tribes” as well as recent violent conflicts in the aftermanth of December 2007 national elections and at the Tana River delta in August and September of 2012 (November, 2012, p.2).
The clashes in the Tana River area involved the Orma and Pokomo communities, claiming more than a hundred lives in August and September 2012. While the communities have clashed over resources in the past, namely pasture and land, of interest is the scale and style of this most recent violence, especially when correlated with fact that a local politician is now facing incitement charges and demands are still in the air for the resignation of a cabinet minister, thought to have a vested interest in the outcome of the local elections. The same region has in last few months being entangled in spate of violence with a separatist group, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) demanding secession rights on the grounds of historical land injustice, political marginalisation, exploitation and underdevelopment by rest of the nation. Local resident Nagib Shamsham argues that the MRC should not be demonised and blames multinationals for exploiting the Costa people, “We are told that multinationals are coming to Tana River to farm. Coast residents can undertake farming.” Furthermore, these multinationals have no corporate social responsibility programme. Instead of seeking dialogue with its leader, the government orchestrated a heavy-handed crackdown against the group. The Kenyan mainstream media, with its characteristic misunderstanding of the context, blessed and sided with the government crackdown rather than question the violations of the rights of the suspected leaders or even accord a voice to those affected, the basic thing a journalist can accord to a victim of a violent incident.
Kenya’s 2008 Peace and National Reconciliation Accord could have tackled some of these incidents of insecurity and security taking shape across Kenya through its Long-Term Agenda for reforms. However, much of the agenda is still at the policy drafting stage or awaiting execution probably due to what Osaghae refers to as “unrelasitic goals, reactive and emergenecy rather than proactive and compehensive objectives, realiance on foreign expertise and poor implementation” (2001, p.25, cited in Bangura & McCandless, 2007, p.46). While the 2010 constitution has altetred the system of governance in Kenya by decetralizing power, institutional reforms of key organs like the judiciary and key instutions like the police force, highly implicated in the 2007/08 post-election, are yet to to undergo comprehensive or credible reforms that could shield them against manipulation during an electoral process. Actually, both sides of the peace accord seem to prefer the status quo of the police force should there be a need to re-write the electoral result come March 2013. This is unfortunate, as the need for institutional reform has been noted by many:
Rising number of failed elections and the resultant conflict is a manifestation of acute institutional failure and the inability of the political forces on the continet to reform the state through democratic constitutions (Kanyinga, Okello, & Akech, 2010, p.2)
(Igah, November, 23, 2012)
In November, close to 30 police officers lost their lives in the North Rift region over a cattle-rustling incident, triggering the deployment of 300 military officers to pursue the attackers. It is alleged that the attack was carried out by cattle rustlers with close links with the Turkana community. Ahmednassir Abdullahi notes that “apart from trying to prosecute politicians from the Turkana community, there were no reprisals or even an attempt to pursue perpetrators of the heinous crime, the government meekly kept mum” (November 24, 2012). In recent months, it has become fashionable for the Kenyan public and presidential contenders to call for or support the deployment of military when the police seem unable to contain incidents of clashes or violence. This sort of denouncement of the police builds on the systematic failure of the police force itself, further tarnishing the public image of an institution a nation cannot do without. Yes the military can in special cases step in to help, but not by the same political elite that has deliberately made the police force a moribund institution while simultaneously fuelling and exploiting violence and insecurity for selfish interests. The question that all this brings forth is whether Kenya is setting the military and police force on a collision course.
Having failed, deliberately, to implement Agenda Four or Long-Term Agenda, the Kenyan government seems to be resorting to its old and familiar tactic of heavy crackdowns and the premise of restoring ‘security’ and ‘stability’ for ‘peaceful coexistence’ among Kenyans, both at urban and rural areas. While the government might be making some inroads through this approach, they are also facilitating the political class as they exploit violence and insecurity as a means of determining the voter.
Democracy and Dangerous Politics of Mobilisations
Since the end of cold war, argues Collier, “the world has witnessed the spread of elections across the bottom billion” (2009). However, two decades on, to a large extent, violence is still being used to influence the electoral process. In essence, “political liberalization did not substantially transform the institutional base of African states” but on the contrary, has “engendered regime insecurity” (Kanyinga, Okello, & Akech, 2010, p.2) making the state a very paranoid creature; the trio further argue that:
[…] under neo-liberal and multiparty expereince, Kenya’s mostly election-linked quest for democratic tarnsition has not produced a democartic public spahere, inclusive politic systems, an acountable leadership and democratic institutions, and civilian-controlled coercive arms of the state, but mostly an exclusionary and ethno-conscious public sphere, pedatory elite, militia rule and the Praetorian coercive arms of the state (2010, p.15).
In societies like in Kenya, the holding of elections is often seen as a barometer for democracy. This is related to both an internal desire for participatory governance order and an external push for democratisation and neo-liberalisation. In view of Inoguchi, Newman and Kean, “while democracy has been widely advocated and sought after, its meaning and application remains a widely contested aspect” (1998). Thus the practice of democracy often comes with violence, intimidation and the spreading of fear. Another pre-election feature of Kenya’s electoral process is the ugly competition for power, often along ethnic lines, as a way of fending off opponents. Since the introduction of multiparty politics in Kenya in 1992, electoral cycles (1992, 1997, and 2007) have either been preceded or followed by urban violence or ethnic clashes.
In their more general statistics, Mansfield and Snyder have found that, “during the 170 years from 1811 to 1980, the danger of war (external and internal) was greatest when states were moving rapidly towards democracy” (1995). Mansfield and Snyder argue that, “when elites are threatened by democratic change, [they] have frequently mobilized support through nationalist appeals, and typically found that once populations have been mobilized, they are difficult to demobilize” (1995). This is because, political power and patronage politics are resources that ethnically mobilized communities and militia gangs “would love to posses and protect at any cost, although it benefits the elites” (Kanyinga, 2006).
The mobilisation and politicisation of criminal or ethnically-based gangs becomes lethal or dangerous as prior to elections, politicians design their messages as a collective benefit, and the affiliated interest groups begins to view losing power and political space as a loss of communal benefits.
According to Adams Oloo, ethnicity continues to be the basic focal point that the political elite use for political mobilization in order to fight the intra-elite war that is Kenyan national politics (2010, p.54). Klopp argues that “Kenya’s ‘clashes’ clearly demonstrate that playing the ethnic card can be an effective short-term strategy for ‘winning’ multi-party elections” (2001, p. 503). Political power, argues Walter Rodney, is
[…] the ultimate determinant in human society, being the basic to relations within any group and between groups. It implies the ability to defend one’s interest and if necessary to impose ones will by any means available. In relation between peoples, the question of power determines manoeuvrability in bargaining, the extent to which a people survives as a physical and cultural entity (2005).
Kenyans and the destiny that is March 4th 2013
Thus, next time, don’t ask why there is so much violence and insecurity in Kenya as the date of any general election beckons. As the March 4, 2013 general elections approach all indications are that the electoral season will be another costly and painful moment for the ordinary Kenyan. If the ordinary Kenyan was given a chance to choose, it’s probable that they would prefer not to have to interact with the electoral process. In the last three electoral cycles (1992, 1997 & 2007) with the exception of a relatively peaceful 2002 election, politically instigated violence has been the norm. Mkandwawire argues that, “African youth exhibit remarkable enthusiasm for democracy, and many have died in its defense. If they fail to find efficacious legal avenues for voicing their opinions, then voter lists will be literally written in blood. That is a terrible toll to inflict on society” (2008). Macharia Gaitho is less opstimistic abou the days ahead:
March 2013 General Election will not be about the Uhuru-Ruto [ICC prime suspects] twins handcuffed together or about Raila and Kalonzo in their improbable nuptials. It will be about whether Kenya can survive selfish and reckless politics (Gaitho, Dec, 4, 2012).
As the general election nears, it is already clear that the perpetration of insecurity for political gain is very likely to disrupt the social fabric of ethnic communities, threaten national cohesion, displace thousands, and reverse economic and political gains.
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Sentinel-Project-for-Genocide-Prevention:The organisation says that risk factor used to produce itys assessement on Kenya’s post-election scenario is based on thirty structural conditions Sentinel-Project-for-Genocide-Prevention, November, 2012
 Long-Term Agenda: Kenya’s current political problems demands taking a new look at the Long Term Agenda in particular addressing long standing injustices in regional development, including resource allocation, the land question, historical injustices and widespread ethnic chauvinism, which tends to undermine national solidarity (Oucho, 2010, p.492). The OHCHR (2008) identified four main causes of Kenya’s post-election violence: Long standing disputes over land rights; recurrent violence and persistent impunity; pre-existing violence of economic and social rights, and vigilant groups (cited in(Oucho, 2010, p.494).
Bio: Mugo Mugo is an African Peace Researcher and Communication Analyst based in Kenya and a graduate of Media, Peace and Conflict Studies from the UN’s-Mandated University for Peace. Currently studying for his second masters in Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation at University of Innsbruck, Austria