His­tory to re­peat it­self in Kenya?

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

More car­toons on­line at An­gela Mudukuti is an in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal jus­tice lawyer

KENYANS take to the bal­lot box on Au­gust 8. They will vote for a pres­i­dent, mem­bers of par­lia­ment and lo­cal politi­cians. Since the end of a one-party state in 1991, sev­eral Kenyan elec­tions have been marred by vi­o­lence.

Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-elec­tion vi­o­lence re­sulted in the deaths of about 1 400 peo­ple and the dis­place­ment of 600 000.

There are var­i­ous fac­tors that make the 2017 elec­tion unique and of great in­ter­est, but the ques­tion on ev­ery­one’s mind is: Will his­tory re­peat it­self and vi­o­lence con­sume what should be a demo­cratic, fair and peace­ful process?

This year, Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, rep­re­sent­ing the Ju­bilee party, will run against Raila Odinga of the Na­tional Su­per Al­liance (Nasa). He ran and lost to Keny­atta by 0.7% in 2013, though he al­leges the elec­tions were rigged.

The po­lit­i­cal ri­valry is in­tense and there is a strong el­e­ment of eth­nic ten­sion that com­pli­cates mat­ters.

As noted by the Truth Jus­tice and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion Re­port, eth­nic ten­sion can be linked to the “di­vide and rule” method used dur­ing the colo­nial era. Eth­nic groups were pit­ted against one an­other to pre­vent them from join­ing forces against colo­nial rule. The un­fair dis­tri­bu­tion of fer­tile land (par­tic­u­larly in the Rift Val­ley and along the coast), and the al­lo­ca­tion of po­si­tions in pub­lic of­fice ac­cord­ing to eth­nic­ity, have ex­ac­er­bated eth­nic ten­sion.

In ad­di­tion, the gov­ern­ment has failed to take ap­pro­pri­ate mea­sures to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 study con­ducted by the Kenya Na­tional Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics, the largest na­tive eth­nic groups are the Kikuyu (6.6 mil­lion), the Luhya (5.3 mil­lion), the Kalen­jin (4.9 mil­lion), the Luo (4 mil­lion) and the Kamba (3.9 mil­lion).

In­cum­bent Keny­atta and his deputy Ruto are gen­er­ally sup­ported by the Kikuyus and the Kalen­jins. Odinga has a party that gen­er­ally at­tracts the sup­port of the Luo, Kamba and Luhya groups.

The 2007/2008 post-elec­tion vi­o­lence has been noted as one of the worst man­i­fes­ta­tions of eth­nic ten­sion. It also saw the in­dict­ment of Keny­atta, and Ruto by the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC) for crimes against hu­man­ity that fell along po­lit­i­cal lines and hence eth­nic lines.

Keny­atta was charged with or­gan­is­ing the Mungiki group who al­legedly com­mit­ted wide­spread at­tacks against the non-Kikuyu pop­u­la­tion per­ceived as sup­port­ing the op­po­si­tion. Most of the vic­tims be­longed to the Luo, Luhya and Kalen­jin eth­nic groups in Nakuru and Naivasha. Their al­leged crimes in­cluded rape, mur­der, forcible trans­fer and per­se­cu­tion.

Ruto was ac­cused of or­gan­is­ing mur­der, forced de­por­ta­tion and per­se­cu­tion com­mit­ted im­me­di­ately af­ter the an­nounce­ment of the re­sults of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. A co-or­di­nated at­tack was car­ried out by groups of Kalen­jin peo­ple, in Turbo town, the greater El­doret area, Kapsa­bet town, Nandi Hills town in Uasin Gishu and Nandi dis­tricts. The at­tack al­legedly tar­geted Kikuyu, Kamba and Kisii eth­nic groups, who were per­ceived sup­port­ers of the Party of Na­tional Unity.

De­spite be­ing op­po­nents in 2007, Ruto and Keny­atta joined forces and re­main united in their cam­paign against Odinga.

Both their ICC cases fell apart for var­i­ous rea­sons. Keny­atta and Ruto re­main in­no­cent un­til proven guilty.

How­ever, one has to won­der whether fur­ther vi­o­lence will be or­ches­trated given that the two lead­ers con­tinue to wield power.

Kenyans also face other chal­lenges dur­ing the elec­tion pe­riod. There are grave con­cerns about the cred­i­bil­ity of the elec­toral com­mis­sion, and the high lev­els of cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment struc­tures and in the law en­force­ment arena.

Also, the is­sue of ad­e­quate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in pol­i­tics con­tin­ues to be a chal­lenge. Amend­ments to the con­sti­tu­tion that could im­prove the gen­der bal­ance in par­lia­ment are yet to be im­ple­mented and thus women re­main un­der-rep­re­sented.

Free­dom of ex­pres­sion in the build-up to elec­tions has also been ques­tioned as jour­nal­ists and the me­dia have faced threats. Jour­nal­ists and blog­gers who have been vo­cal about gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion have al­legedly been at­tacked and in­tim­i­dated by gov­ern­ment agents.

Con­cerns around al-Shabaab ter­ror­ist at­tacks also ex­ist and present ad­di­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges. Al-Shabaab at­tacks in Kenya have had a se­vere desta­bil­is­ing ef­fect in ar­eas close to the So­mali border. Ear­lier this month, on July 8, nine civil­ians were be­headed in a Kenyan vil­lage. Al-Shabaab’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Kenya are be­lieved to be acts of ret­ri­bu­tion against Kenya be­cause the Kenyans sent troops into So­ma­lia to as­sist in the fight against al-Shabaab in 2011.

In ad­di­tion to se­cu­rity threats, the coun­try is fac­ing drought and there are food short­ages in cer­tain ar­eas.

How­ever, there are some pos­i­tive as­pects, for ex­am­ple this is the first time in the his­tory of the coun­try that pris­on­ers will be able to vote. Reports in­di­cate that 5 528 vot­ers from 118 pris­ons have reg­is­tered to vote.

The world is watch­ing Kenya. Hope­fully, the 2017 elec­tion will be free, fair and peace­ful.

MES­SAGE OF HOPE: Men sit in front of a wall with a mes­sage of peace painted on its door in Kib­era slum, one of the op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga’s strongholds in the cap­i­tal Nairobi, Kenya, on Mon­day.

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