The March 2013 Elections in Kenya and the Responsibility to Protect
On 4 March Kenyans will vote in highly anticipated elections. These elections will be Kenya’s first since widespread violence following the December 2007 presidential election shocked the country and world.
The 2007/8 violence lasted two months, during which time 1,133 Kenyans were killed, over 600,000 driven from their homes and more than 110,000 private properties were destroyed. The stakes during the upcoming elections are high and, while not inevitable, there is a serious risk of a recurrence of widespread violence.
The crimes perpetrated during the deadly 2007/8 postelection violence rose to the level of crimes against humanity, according to the International Criminal Court (ICC). These are crimes that the Kenyan government, along with every other United Nations (UN) member state, committed to protect populations from at the 2005 UN World Summit when affirming its support for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). In keeping with R2P, international actors responded swiftly to halt the violence in Kenya and the response is widely cited as the first successful example of “R2P in practice.” With less than three weeks remaining before the 2013 elections, tensions are rising again. Inter-communal violence has already killed over 480 people in the past year. Tana River, Moyale, Turkana and Samburu counties have been hit particularly hard.
Many of the underlying causes of the 2007/8 postelection violence remain. Worryingly, new flashpoints for violence and new threats from actors such as AlShabaab have also emerged. Furthermore, the security sector’s response to recent violence in Tana River county raises serious questions about their ability to rapidly respond to mass atrocities should they recur.
Kenyans want to see their country emerge from this election unscathed. Since 2008, the Kenyan government has, in keeping with R2P and with the support of the international community, implemented important political, electoral and judicial reforms and enacted legislation to prohibit hate speech. Yet, movement on vital security sector reform and prosecutions for the 2007/8 post-election violence has been slow and sporadic.
This is a historic moment for Kenya with a new progressive constitution and a thriving economy. As the country marks its jubilee year, honoring 50 years of independence, considerable efforts have been taken to ensure that Kenya does not experience mass atrocities once again.
It is therefore imperative that, in keeping with R2P, the Kenyan government, with the support of the African Union (AU), UN, regional allies, donors and local civil society, intensify efforts to prevent a recurrence of violence and potential mass atrocities.
Electoral violence in Kenya is not new. At least 4,433 Kenyans have been killed and over 1.8 million people displaced by such violence since 1993. The scale and intensity of the 2007/8 post-election violence was, however, unprecedented. Within hours of the announcement of incumbent President Mwai Kibaki as the victor over Raila Odinga in the 27 December presidential election, protests over the perceived rigging of results quickly turned violent and mass atrocities were committed.