Kenya

Kenyan elections: peace must prevail

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On August 9th, the general elections will take place, and everyone is hopeful that they will be fair and peaceful. Apprehensions frequently stem from the fact that political parties and alliances are structured according to ethnic or regional affinities, which has led to fiercely contested and polarized past elections.

The widespread violence that broke out following the 2007 elections is still fresh in Kenyans' minds. At the height of the crisis over 1,200 people lost their lives and up to 500,000 had been displaced. Electoral fraud tainted the 2013 and 2017 elections, which saw a close race between current president Uhuru Kenyatta (together with Deputy President William Ruto as his running mate) and Rt.Hon. Raila Odinga. Due to the anomalies, the Supreme Court mandated a new election be held in 2017. The political narrative emphasis on economic deprivation and alienation of some groups led to the loss of lives and displacement of people from their homes. To avoid being dragged back into those "dark times," it is vital for us as a nation to recognize the early warning signs that lead to conflicts and call upon political parties, candidates, and authorities to foster an enabling environment during this period.

To gain a thorough understanding of the peace and security situation in the nation and to provide appropriate policy direction, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) commissioned a national conflict hotspot mapping study. This was done in recognition of the efforts of numerous players who are working tirelessly to ensure that peace prevails during the upcoming elections. The report classified Kenya’s potential for election-related violence at 53.43% per cent indicating that several counties are vulnerable due to many fragilities they are exposed to. The vulnerabilities, which were broken down into three categories, included pre-existing conflict elements such as inter-ethnic with disputes over land, boundary, market, border, livestock, pasture and water among others, prospective triggers which were identified as levels of hate speech, interference in mainstream media, contesting party primaries, refusing to recognize election results, spreading false information, threatening representatives of political parties, and results that contradict opinion polls, and weak institutional capacities which were listed as the potential use of force by the police, low trust in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), low trust in the judiciary, insufficient conflict resolution capabilities, and lack of implementation of peace policies.

If the nation is to prevent a repeat of the violent results of recent elections, the various actors involved in the peace tapestry must support and foster peace initiatives. A peaceful election requires tremendous effort. Through partnerships and collaborations with the NCIC, organisations like Interpeace are progressing this vision in Kenya by creating long-lasting local and national capacities for successfully managing intercommunity tension and conflict, thereby creating opportunities for advancing sustainable development and strengthening community resilience.
Mandera's and the North Rift region's clashes serve as illustrative cases of conflicts brought on by social, cultural, environmental, and political elements that interact dynamically to perpetuate and encourage cyclical bouts of destruction and violence. When NCIC and Interpeace ultimately succeeded in bringing the warring parties together, they opened conversations about collaborative pathway forward, and moved towards fostering peace together. In July 2021, Pokot and Turkana elders from the Kapedo-Lomelo corridor signed the Orwa Accord, bringing an end to decades of cyclical conflict and deadly violence. Before Orwa, many peace agreements signed in the North Rift had broken down, because they were not implemented or could not be transferred from the ‘negotiating table’ to the ‘town square’.

Nationally, the Government, civil society organizations, and local leaders should work toward the following goals for Kenya to experience peace during the next and future general elections:

i. Inclusive Governance: Encouraging a more equitable distribution of power and resources, especially in conflict affected communities, amongst others by de-ethnicizing people's political inclinations.

ii. Social Cohesion: Increasing and sustaining social cohesion among communities with persistent historical and present grievances and fostering political will to implement intercommunity arrangements that deal with historical grievances and address collective livelihood and development priorities.

iii. Sustaining peace through locally led peace infrastructures: Supporting communities to articulate peacebuilding needs and priorities through inclusive dialogue processes and capacitating local structures to implement community-designed initiatives for preventing and managing conflicts.

Peace starts with an individual. By promoting mutual trust and resiliency, every Kenyan can contribute to the promotion of peace. Peacebuilding is a collective initiative that both the government and its people should embrace.

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About the Author: Hassan Ismail, Country Representative, Kenya, Interpeace. Email: ismail@interpeace.org