Kenya braces for elec­tion vi­o­lence

As na­tion read­ies for Tues­day’s con­tentious elec­tion, mem­o­ries of vi­o­lence rise again.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROBYN DIXON robyn.dixon@la­ Twit­ter: @RobynDixon_LAT

As a pres­i­den­tial vote looms, mem­o­ries of past blood­shed set an omi­nous tone.

NAIROBI, Kenya — Dur­ing elec­tion vi­o­lence in Kenya in 2008, Jakiwa Inda watched men in mil­i­tary uni­forms burn the slums at night.

Inda got back to his home in the Mathare slums, out­side the cap­i­tal, Nairobi, and found his mother’s body so badly burned that he could only rec­og­nize one hand.

En­raged, he de­cided it was time to kill.

The slums had erupted with eth­nic vi­o­lence over the dis­puted De­cem­ber 2007 elec­tion that kept Mwai Kibaki, a mem­ber of the Kikuyu eth­nic group, as pres­i­dent. Many Kikuyus, whose mem­bers are as­so­ci­ated with the gov­ern­ing party, and Luos, whose mem­bers gen­er­ally sup­port the op­po­si­tion, hacked each other to death with ma­chetes.

Inda, who re­mains trau­ma­tized, sees omi­nous signs ahead of na­tional vot­ing Tues­day in Kenya, a coun­try with a his­tory of dis­puted, vi­o­lent, eth­ni­cally charged elec­tions.

The elec­tion sees two long­time ri­val po­lit­i­cal dy­nas­ties pit­ted against each other, with Raila Odinga, a 72-year-old Luo, strug­gling to dis­lodge Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta, 55, a Kikuyu. Both are sons of tow­er­ing Kenyan in­de­pen­dence fig­ures.

Last week’s tor­ture and slay­ing of an elec­tion of­fi­cial, Chris Msando, who headed in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in the elec­tronic vot­ing sys­tem, raised fears of an at­tempt to ma­nip­u­late the re­sult, although no killers or mo­tive have been found.

On Sat­ur­day, the gov­ern­ment de­ported four for­eign­ers from Aris­to­tle, a Wash­ing­ton po­lit­i­cal data min­ing firm em­ployed by the op­po­si­tion Na­tional Su­per Al­liance to help con­duct its own tally of votes from ev­ery polling sta­tion as a guard against elec­tion fraud.

Kenya’s tourism and growth have been tainted by decades of cor­rup­tion and pa­tron­age, with con­tracts and ben­e­fits si­phoned off to eth­nic cronies. The ben­e­fits of the coun­try’s 6% eco­nomic growth en­riched a small elite but have not dented a 17% youth unem­ploy­ment rate or reached the im­pov­er­ished masses who claw out a liv­ing in ur­ban slums or ru­ral vil­lages.

Two eth­nic groups, the Kikuyus and Kalen­jins, have ben­e­fited most from power since the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in the early 1960s, leav­ing the Luos and other groups ag­grieved and marginal­ized.

“Af­ter in­de­pen­dence, the politi­cians found this sys­tem of eth­nic pol­i­tics con­ve­nient. In Kenya, un­for­tu­nately, they con­tin­ued to use eth­nic­ity as the main tool on which to run elec­tions. Politi­cians find it con­ve­nient be­cause they know they can’t be chal­lenged on pol­icy,” said se­nior an­a­lyst Mu­rithi Mutiga of the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group. “It’s a cry­ing shame, 54 years af­ter in­de­pen­dence, they still stick to that.”

At elec­tion time, politi­cians whip up neg­a­tive sen­ti­ment and pay sup­port­ers to protest, or even riot.

In 2007, the pres­i­den­tial race be­tween in­cum­bent Kibaki and Odinga, in which in­de­pen­dent ob­servers re­ported bal­lot-box stuff­ing and other flaws, cul­mi­nated with Kibaki be­ing sworn in to of­fice in the dead of the night in a power grab that trig­gered weeks of eth­nic clashes. Es­ti­mates of the death toll vary from 1,000 to 1,500, but no one re­ally knows how many were killed as vi­o­lence gripped slums and towns burned in the volatile Rift Val­ley.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2012 In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court in­dict­ment for crimes against hu­man­ity, Keny­atta played a key role in de­ploy­ing the Mungiki crim­i­nal gang to kill, rape, at­tack and maim non-Kikuyu peo­ple. But af­ter key wit­nesses in the case were killed, dis­ap­peared or with­drew tes­ti­mony and the gov­ern­ment blocked ac­cess to records, the pros­e­cu­tion with­drew the charges in 2014.

Inda, who in 2007 was a leader of a crim­i­nal gang called the GBs, or Good Boys, had taken ad­van­tage of the chaos to loot su­per­mar­kets. Af­ter his mother’s death, the gang turned on Kikuyus, drag­ging peo­ple from their houses.

“I be­came so emo­tional, want­ing to re­venge my mother, and started ral­ly­ing youth to go and kill Kikuyus. I wanted to kill many, but we man­aged to kill three,” Inda said. “We just killed them in a mob. But I was do­ing it as if this per­son was the one who killed my mom.”

Inda’s younger brother was among six ri­ot­ers shot dead in Mathare while try­ing to bar­ri­cade a bridge. Inda’s fi­ancee was be­headed by a ri­val mili­tia. He found her body, and her head was found in a dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hood four days later.

He col­lapsed and was taken to a clinic for a week. In that time, eight of his gang mem­bers were slain, shot by po­lice or killed by eth­nic ri­vals.

“What I learned in 2007 was that you might do some­thing think­ing you are do­ing the right thing, but some­times you are do­ing the wrong thing,” Inda said. “You are killing Kikuyus think­ing you are get­ting them back — but I didn’t get my mother back, I didn’t get my brother back, I didn’t get my fi­ancee back and I was left with a lot of trauma.”

He and other gang mem­bers agreed to stop their at­tacks af­ter a re­spected el­der told them that killing would not bring vic­tory. Inda later re­ceived train­ing from an in­ter­na­tional char­ity as a peace ad­vo­cate and is part of a Catholic peace ini­tia­tive in Mathare, the Par­ish Ec­u­meni­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Com­mit­tee.

“We as peace­mak­ers are just pray­ing that the com­mis­sion, the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral and Bound­aries Com­mis­sion, will just con­duct this elec­tion free and fair so that vi­o­lence will not erupt. The com­mu­nity of Kenya doesn’t want vi­o­lence. If the elec­tion goes oth­er­wise, then vi­o­lence can erupt very eas­ily.”

Op­po­si­tion trust has been frayed by the killing of Msando, the elec­tion of­fi­cial, the de­por­ta­tion of the Aris­to­tle elec­tion data anal­y­sis team and a gov­ern­ment ban on op­po­si­tion plans to sta­tion un­of­fi­cial mon­i­tors at all polling sta­tions.

Nairobi bus sta­tions are thronged with Kenyans try­ing to leave the cap­i­tal, fear­ing new vi­o­lence.

Alice Ad­hi­ambo, 40, of Mathare, sent her five chil­dren out of the city and plans to leave im­me­di­ately af­ter vot­ing. With opin­ion polls sug­gest­ing a tight race, she said the at­mos­phere was al­ready tense, with op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers con­vinced the elec­tion would be stolen.

Last week, Ad­hi­ambo took part in a peace march in Mathare, “but peo­ple were re­spond­ing and say­ing there will only be peace if the re­sults will be an­nounced free and fair.”

“A lot of peo­ple have left Kib­era, go­ing to the coun­try­side for fear of vi­o­lence,” said Mark Madegwa, an artist in Kib­era, an­other ma­jor slum. “To­day the streets are empty. There are no peo­ple and the mata­tus are nowhere to be seen,” he said, re­fer­ring to com­muter minibuses.

“In Kenya, when elec­tions are close, we fear the chances of vi­o­lence are higher be­cause politi­cians don’t have a cul­ture of po­lit­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Mutiga, the an­a­lyst. “If it’s very close, it means the los­ing can­di­date may not con­cede as read­ily and vi­o­lence may re­sult.”

An­other po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst con­tacted for com­ments on the elec­tion de­clined, say­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sions “can put my fam­ily at risk.”

Op­po­si­tion can­di­date Odinga dis­puted the re­sult in 2007 and un­suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the 2013 elec­tion, in which he lost to Keny­atta, in the Supreme Court. He has warned of pos­si­ble mass protests if Tues­day’s elec­tion is con­sid­ered rigged.

An­other po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, Macharia Munene of the United States In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity in Nairobi, pre­dicted that Keny­atta would win the vote and that Odinga would not ac­cept the re­sult. Any vi­o­lence would prob­a­bly be con­tained in a few volatile pock­ets of the coun­try, he said.

“If he doesn’t want to go to court if he’s not an­nounced the win­ner, the im­pli­ca­tion is that he’s out for con­fronta­tion,” Munene said. “It’s the per­son­al­ity, it’s the dis­po­si­tion of Mr. Odinga.”

Civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists, in­clud­ing Glad­well Otieno of the African Cen­ter for Open Gov­er­nance, said the gov­ern­ment ban on vot­ers ob­serv­ing out­side polling sta­tions cast doubt on the open­ness of the vot­ing process.

“Vot­ers have a right to wit­ness the polling sta­tion re­sults as they are an­nounced and to scru­ti­nize the writ­ten record of those re­sults, which are re­quired to be posted at the polling sta­tions,” Otieno told lo­cal me­dia Fri­day.

The High Court up­held the ban Sun­day, or­der­ing that vot­ers should stay at least 400 yards from polling booths af­ter cast­ing bal­lots.

In a sign of how en­trenched eth­nic vot­ing is, Jane Nyam­bura, 40, a Kikuyu woman who runs a food kiosk in the Kib­era slum, said she would vote for Keny­atta, sup­port­ing her usual po­lit­i­cal group­ing, even though she dis­trusts all politi­cians.

“All politi­cians are the same. I think they are self­ish, so I don’t trust what­ever they say,” Nyam­bura said.

The hope for change, Mutiga said, lies in Kenyans ages 18 to 35, who com­prise 51% of vot­ers.

“One hopes that as young peo­ple be­come in­creas­ingly in­ter­con­nected and bet­ter ed­u­cated, maybe they will han­ker for a dif­fer­ent type of pol­i­tics,” Mutiga said.

Jen­nifer Huxta

PRAY­ING FOR A peace­ful elec­tion, pas­tors from El­doret, Kenya, march Sun­day ahead of a pres­i­den­tial vote that’s ex­pected to be close.

Ben Cur­tis As­so­ci­ated Press

A SUP­PORTER of op­po­si­tion leader Raila Odinga wears or­anges, the party sym­bol, at a Nairobi rally Sat­ur­day be­fore Odinga faces Pres­i­dent Uhuru Keny­atta.

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