Elec­tions see Kenya on knife edge

Fam­i­lies flee for fear of vi­o­lence

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

WIDE­SPREAD vi­o­lence, in­tim­i­da­tion dis­plac­ing vic­tims of the bloody elec­tions a decade ago, counter al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging, a me­dia un­der siege and the worst drought in years – Kenya is on a knife edge lead­ing up to the Au­gust 8 polls.

Fear has gripped east Africa’s largest econ­omy amid in­di­ca­tions that his­tory is about to re­peat it­self. The at­mos­phere is fraught with ten­sions. Some 19 mil­lion Kenyans are reg­is­tered to vote for a pres­i­dent, gov­er­nors, senators, par­lia­men­tar­i­ans, women rep­re­sen­ta­tives and county as­sem­bly mem­bers.

With just a few weeks re­main­ing, the men­tion of elec­tions sends shiv­ers down the spine of many still reel­ing from a dis­puted elec­tion out­come that left more than 1 500 peo­ple dead and over 650 000 oth­ers dis­placed.

The skir­mishes em­a­nat­ing from the re­ten­tion of Mwai Kibaki ahead of op­po­si­tion supremo Raila Odinga would re­sult in the in­dict­ment of cur­rent in­cum­bent, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) for al­leged crimes against hu­man­ity. He was even­tu­ally cleared.

Keny­atta, who has warned the ju­di­ciary against rig­ging re­sults for the op­po­si­tion, is seek­ing a sec­ond five-year term. Na­tional Su­per Al­liance coali­tion leader Odinga, who is al­leg­ing im­proper links be­tween the pres­i­dent and firms print­ing bal­lots, is in yet an­other bid for power. Six other can­di­dates are run­ning. His­tor­i­cally, pol­i­tics in Kenya is largely eth­ni­cally driven, with vot­ers ral­ly­ing be­hind can­di­dates from their group.

An in­crease in in­tra-party po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence af­ter the start of party pri­maries in April has been noted.

Odinga’s Orange Demo­cratic Move­ment has been be­set by factionalism, with the worst cases of vi­o­lence wit­nessed in Mig­ori and Nairobi.

The ma­jor­ity Ju­bilee Party’s prepa­ra­tions have also been char­ac­terised by in­ter­nal ten­sions.

In his re­cent An­nual State of Na­tional Se­cu­rity Re­port, Keny­atta dis­closed “height­en­ing po­lit­i­cal tem­per­a­ture has seen the resur­gence of crim­i­nal gangs, po­lit­i­cal goons and mili­tias”.

He also cited a pro­lif­er­a­tion of il­le­gal arms and light weapons con­tribut­ing to ban­ditry and gen­eral crime.

Be­fore his death this past week­end, In­te­rior Cabi­net Sec­re­tary, Joseph Nkaissery, warned that se­cu­rity agents would ar­rest mem­bers of out­lawed gangs.

Re­cently, rights groups re­ported that fam­i­lies were flee­ing com­mu­ni­ties worst hit by the vi­o­lence of a decade ago. The trend has been noted in the cen­tral Nakuru County’s Naivasha area, the epi­cen­tre of the pre­vi­ous skir­mishes.

Naivasha was among the ar­eas most af­fected by the 2007-2008 post-elec­tion vi­o­lence. In­ter-eth­nic ri­val­ries over land and power, stoked by politi­cians, claimed hun­dreds of lives.

Some vi­o­la­tions were never in­ves­ti­gated or pros­e­cuted.

Al­leged threats and in­tim­i­da­tion be­tween com­mu­nity mem­bers have emerged. Hu­man Rights Watch said it doc­u­mented at least six in­ci­dents of direct threats against op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers.

A group of young men in Ki­namba and Ki­hoto, be­lieved to be be­hind some of the pre­vi­ous vi­o­lence, have re­port­edly warned peo­ple to vote for Keny­atta or stay away from the polls.

Ot­sieno Namwaya, Africa re­searcher for Hu­man Rights Watch, said the author­i­ties must ur­gently in­ves­ti­gate.

“Kenyan author­i­ties should do more to pre­vent a re­peat of the 2007 blood­shed in Naivasha.”

Mau­rice Muha­tia, head of Nakuru Catholic Dio­cese, ex­pressed alarm over the rate at which fam­i­lies were flee­ing.

How­ever, Naivasha’s se­nior as­sis­tant com­mis­sioner, Richard Aguoka, said more se­cu­rity of­fi­cers had been sent to the ar­eas and the govern­ment had cre­ated peace com­mit­tees to en­cour­age co­ex­is­tence.

He de­nied that peo­ple were flee­ing.

“The threats are a po­lit­i­cal tac­tic by lo­cal politi­cians and have noth­ing to do with the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. It is caused by the fear of los­ing,” said Aguoka.

Mean­while, the worst drought Kenya is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in decades is an­other source of con­flict. It pits vil­lagers against cat­tle herders over di­min­ish­ing re­sources.

“With some herders car­ry­ing arms this could lead to deadly con­se­quences,” Ox­fam warned.

More than 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing cri­sis lev­els of food in­se­cu­rity. The num­ber could in­crease to 3.5 mil­lion by the time polls are held.

At a prayer ser­vice or­gan­ised by the Evan­gel­i­cal Al­liance, Keny­atta and fel­low con­tes­tants Michael Wainaina and Ekuru Aukot re­cently pledged to preach peace to their sup­port­ers. Other can­di­dates skipped the event. – CAJ News


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