Mitigating violence in Kenya’s 2013 elections

Joel Barkan has a CFR contingency planning memorandum on the Kenyan elections in which he notes that:

The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.

But the window might be closing fast on the international community to help Kenya avoid a repeat of 2007-08, when 1300 died and 300,000 were displaced after a bungled election. According to a report by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (yours truly was a research assistant for the commission), evidence suggests that international interventions to encourage reasonably free and fair and peaceful elections are most effective when done well in advance to the polling day. In the Kenyan case, the structural causes of previous rounds of electoral violence were never addressed, and may yet lead to the loss of life this election cycle.

What can now be done to avoid large scale organized violence is to credibly convince the politicians and those who finance youth militia (chinkororo, taliban, mungiki, jeshi la mzee, baghdad boys, etc) that they will be held accountable. So far, as is evident in Tana River and the informal settlements within Nairobi, the lords of violence appear to be operating like it is business as usual.

Insecurity in Kenya and the upcoming March 2013 elections

It is a mere three and a half months before the March 4th elections in Kenya and compounding the problems facing the electoral commission (which is riddled with corruption allegations and is yet to register voters) is the fact that insecurity in the country appears to be on the rise. The recent killing of at least 40 police officers in Baragoi (in northwestern Kenya) says it all. This comes just a couple of months after the Tana River massacre that left over 100 villagers and police officers dead in mid-September.

(credit: Gado)

The Tana Delta and Baragoi massacres exposed the failures of the intelligence and policing operations in the less-governed parts of Kenya (roughly the northern half and most of the east and southeast of the country). In both cases the government was caught flat-footed and unable to respond rapidly to emergent security threats.

A lot of finger pointing followed both incidents, with the police claiming that their hands were tied by strict laws on the use of force (thanks in part to the justifiably hyperactive human rights crowd in Nairobi) and the politicians blaming one another for incitement of the perpetrators of the crimes.

The latest incident in Baragoi has forced the president to order the deployment of the Kenya Defense Forces to assist in bringing to book the bandits behind the murder of dozens of policemen.

But the deployment of the security forces alone will not bring an end to the cycle of killings that have plagued Kenya in the last several months. In order to clean up the toxic mix of archaic cultural practices, local politics and economic interests, the government will have to be a little bit more broad and nuanced in its approach. What ought to be done about the cultural practices behind cattle rustling? How, if at all, are local leaders ever involved in these operations? What is the local political impact of these raids?

Which brings me back to the 2013 elections. The electoral commission has only one month beginning on Monday Nov 19 to register 18 million voters. Serious lapses in security that seem to be commonplace in large parts of the country do not inspire confidence in the agents of the commission who are supposed to traverse the whole country to build a new voter roll.

A failure to register enough voters for the election due to insecurity will de-legitimize the whole process, with dire consequences.

I hope that the electoral commission is following the investigations of these incidents of violence closely (especially since it has the power to punish those in contravention of election laws). Many Kenyans trust that the commission will be fair on election day. It is therefore not inconceivable that knowing that they won’t change the results after people have voted, crooked politicians have resorted to gerrymandering by other means – by dislocating certain pockets of voters or instigating violence to suppress voter registration and eventual turnout.

the truth will not be pretty

When the truth finally emerges about Kenya’s very bloody post election violence, it will not be pretty. If Human Rights Watch has it right (and I highly suspect they do), it will be established that the violence in the Rift Valley and parts of Nairobi were meticulously planned by local leaders, big name politicians and business people. More than 1500 died people in the two-month nightmare.

It perplexes me how we shall be able, as a nation, to trust our leaders after they get mentioned to have planned the killings of fellow Kenyans. How can we trust people who organized the burning of 50 people, most of them women and children, in a church? How can we trust the other leaders who in turn organized an arson attack of their own that killed 19 in Naivasha?

The other question will be, where does the investigation stop. Does it stop will the local elders in the Rift Valley or should it go all the way to the national stage where big name politicians might be implicated? Does it stop with the Mungiki leaders in the wider central Kenya or does it go all the way to those who participated in the supposed meeting at State House to plan the reprisal attacks in Nakuru and Naivasha?

Kenya’s near collapse at the beginning of the year is yet again another confirmation of Africa’s lack of serious and dedicated leadership – both within governments and the civil society groups. Why do we always settle for such inept egg heads to lead us? And where is the media on this? Where is their investigative journalism? The media should expose the killers who killed innocent Kenyans for who they are. And our civil society should stop shouting from the roof tops and actually get their hands soiled for a worthy cause. Please give names, dates, numbers, hard facts. EXPOSE THESE KILLERS.

Kenya owes the 1500-plus victims justice. For too long we’ve hid behind a culture of mediocrity and complicity with killers, thugs and rapists. 1992, 1997 and 2007 need to be cleansed from our national conscience. One way to do this would be to bring to book the real perpetrators of the violence that gave us all, as Kenyans, a bad name. The bigger their names the better.

kenyan talks collapse, more violence expected

Kenya seems to be headed for more chaos as talks between the government and the main opposition party over disputed elections collapsed on Thursday. The opposition then reacted to this by announcing three days of street protests throughout the country in an attempt to force the government to resign.

The government is yet to react to the call for fresh protests. Last time the opposition tried to go to the streets they were met by paramilitary officers with clubs and water canons. A few were shot dead in the Western cities of Kisumu and Eldoret, the hot beds of opposition support.

By refusing to allow mediation to work, the two leaders in the midst of the current chaos, Kibaki and Raila, risk plunging this former oasis of peace on the continent of Africa into yet another failed African state. The economy has lost more than a billion dollars since December 27th and the stock market continues to record losses – five percent of its value has already been wiped off thanks to the violence.

True to a Swahili proverb, when two elephants fight its the grass that suffers – as Kibaki and Raila lock horns in their struggle for power it is the ordinary poor Kenyans that are feeling the pinch, more than anyone else. Prices have shot up since violence erupted in late December and more than 500 people have died already. A panel of mediators led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan is expected into the country to try and mediate a settlement between Raila and Kibaki. The government has already shown its unwillingness to cooperate by insisting that the country needs no mediators as it is not in a state of war.

the anarchy in kenya begins to affect the region

Over the years, Kenya has emerged as the political and economic Mecca in East and Central Africa. It is therefore not surprising that the region is already feeling the effect of the current political crisis that has almost brought Kenya to its knees. Most of the countries in the region import goods from and/or through Kenya.

Reports from Uganda already indicate a rise in fuel prices and there is fear that more shortages and price hikes are to follow. Uganda imports nearly all of its fuel through Kenya. Kenya is also the region’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods. The raging violence has shut down businesses and factories and there are virtually no vehicles on the major highways. With the Kenyan economy in limbo, the region’s economic stability remains severely threatened.

It all seems unreal that Kenyans, who for decades have hosted refugees from all its neighbors, are now fleeing their own country to seek refuge in places like Uganda and Tanzania. Only time will tell how the region will respond to the increasingly alarming refugee situation. About 80,000 Kenyans have already been displaced from their homes. If the situation is not arrested soon, instability in Kenya will most likely spread to other countries in the region – most likely Eastern Uganda and Northern Tanzania.

Kenya’s decent to chaos will also be a big blow to the prospects for democracy on the continent of Africa. Before the post-election eruption of violence, Kenya had been seen by many African countries as a model of democracy and stability. Kenya also played a big role in bringing peace to troubled areas like Southern Sudan and Somalia. It is therefore in the region’s interest that Kenya remains stable and peaceful.

As a Kenyan editorial peace put it today, “It is unbelievable foolishness for Kenyans to destroy their economy, their homes and their entire way of life in the name of politics.” Peace and stability should be put before everything else not just for Kenyans’ sake but for the sake of the entire region as well.

kenya, quickly degenerating into an African statistic

Achebe hit the nail on the head when he said that the trouble with Nigeria (and by extension Africa) was simply and squarely one of leadership. Nowhere else in the world has leadership failed the people more than on the continent of Africa. African leaders, whether dictators or otherwise, have proven to be the most inept and ideologically bankrupt lot the world has ever known.

The unfolding situation in Kenya is a glaring example of leadership that is devoid of any consideration for the common man. There is an East African proverb that says ‘when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.’ This proverb couldn’t be closer to the truth. It is the poor Kenyans living in slums and rural areas that are suffering and dying while the upper class watch the grim situation on international tv stations from the safety of their well protected homes.

Kibaki and Raila, the two men at the centre of the disputed elections, should act like the statesmen they claim to be and resolve the dispute as soon as possible in order to avert further loss of life and property. Estimates indicate that the Kenyan economy is losing billions of shillings everyday due to the violence and looting that is being witnessed nearly all over the country. These two men should stop playing around with the lives of 37 million Kenyans by being conceited and unidimensional in their quest for power.

The elections had irregularities, no doubt about that. But is this the best way of dealing with it? Did more than 200 Kenyans have to die just because Kibaki and Raila cannot down size their egos and come to a compromise? Do these two men realise that Kenya will still be around even after they are both dead and buried?

As many Kenyan politicians have been quick to point out, the country is more important than individuals. Kibaki and Raila should realise this if Kenya is to be Kenya – a country that has remained peaceful and democratic even as most of its neighbors were up in flames or under the yoke of dictatorships.