Elections see Kenya on knife edge
Families flee for fear of violence
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