By Nangayi Guyson in Kampala, Uganda
KAMPALA, UGANDA, As Kenya prepare to hold general elections on March 4, this year, which is the first elections since the serious violence that engulfed the country after the 2007 polls and the first under Kenya’s new constitution, there is high tension and many Kenyans are worried that what happened in 2007 may repeat itself in this year’s elections.
In 2007, Kenya went into elections which turned violent with Inter-ethnic clashes and police violence that left up to 1,300 people dead and more than 650,000 displaced.
The Kenyan government after these incidents promised to make reforms to pave way for a future democratic, free and fair elections but it has failed to address ongoing and past human rights abuses which have contributed to tensions across Kenya prior to national elections on March 4, 2013.
The Human Rights Watch, released a report last week warning and urging the Kenyan authorities to take urgent steps, including the arrest and fair trial of all those who directly incite or organize violence, to help ensure that elections are peaceful, free, and fair.
The whole world is putting an eye on Kenya to see it go through this elections process peaceful, US President Barack Obama in a video message posted on YouTube last week urged the people of Kenya to put aside tribal and ethnic differences and clearly reject intimidation, violence and consider the elections as a historic opportunity for the country to stand together as a nation, for peace, progress, and for the rule of law. African leaders are also urging Kenya to have free and fair elections.
Elections under Independent Electoral Commission
The elections in Kenya this year are to be organized by an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) which is an Independent regulatory agency that was founded in 2011 by the Constitution of Kenya and is mandated to conduct peaceful elections to avoid further elections violence in the Country.
However, despite that, there are still dangers of violence that may erupt due to government failures to carry out needed reforms. These dangers have already shown some signs, in 2012 and early this year, there have been inter-communal clashes in parts of Kenya that have claimed more than 477 lives and displaced about 118,000 people due to pre-election maneuvering as local politicians mobilize support. The police and other authorities have repeatedly failed to prevent the violence or hold those responsible to account.
Possible violence after elections
“Violence is not inevitable but the warning signs are too bright to ignore,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has failed to address the root causes of violence that have marred multi-party elections since 1992, and especially the atrocities of 2007-2008, so urgent steps are needed to protect Kenyans.”
The government is facing a secessionist group opposed to the elections as well as a violent inter-ethnic conflict. In Nyanza and Central, powerful criminal groups and armed gangs are believed to be backing politicians. In North Eastern government security forces have stoked tensions by using excessive force against local residents, especially after attacks by armed groups on the police and military.
Gangs and armed groups
Based on research conducted by Human Rights Watch between August and December 2012 in Kenya’s Central, Coast, Eastern, North Eastern, Nyanza, and Rift Valley regions, there have patterns of violence and human rights violations in six of Kenya’s eight regions organized by gangs
In the Nyanza region in western Kenya where violence affected people the more in 2007-2008, with about 115 people killed, more than 90 percent of them killed by the police, according to the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV, also known as the Waki Commission), Nyanza has historically witnessed high levels of political violence from different criminal gangs that include the Baghdad Boys, Sungu Sungu, American Marine, and China Group which police have been accused of failing to prevent them from committing crimes, and instead some police collaborating with them. These gangs are also believed to be allies of politicians: American Marine based in Kisumu apparently supports Prime Minister Raila Odinga and China Group appears to support Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Violence erupted between the two gangs in September 2012 after a visit to Nyanza by Deputy Prime Minister Kenyatta, and the police failed to intervene. In October 2012 the murder by unknown suspects of a candidate from Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) sparked riots, this time the police intervened but with their apparent use of excessive.
The Coast region also has experienced mounting tension since 2009, with the secessionist Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) warning the government against organizing elections there. Facilities and officials of the electoral commission, as well as police stations, have come under attack in Kwale, Kilifi, and Malindi counties, but MRC denied responsibility.
In the Rift Valley mistrust and anger remain high between members of the two main ethnic groups, the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu, who fought fiercely in 2007-2008. The government of President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, has not adequately promoted reconciliation between the communities; on the contrary, some of its policies have widened the divide. Human Rights Watch research indicates that government assistance to the roughly 400,000 persons displaced in the Rift Valley five years ago—a rebuilt home, a new home, money, or land— has significantly favored the Kikuyu and left the Kalenjin internally displaced, many of them unregistered, concerned that the government will not assist them.
In Eastern and North Eastern regions, the prospects for violence are on two fronts: inter- clan clashes and widespread abuses by government security forces after attacks inside Kenya by the Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabaab. In the former, the police have consistently failed to intervene; in the latter, they have repeatedly used excessive force. The inter-clan violence began in late 2011, primarily in Isiolo, Moyale, and Mandera, and has left roughly 120 people dead and 77,000 people displaced. At the same time, al- Shabaab has continued to target Kenyan security forces since Kenya’s intervention in Somalia in October 2011. Kenyan forces have responded with excessive force, arbitrary detention, and mistreatment in custody of people believed to be supporting al-Shabaab in places such as Garissa, Wajir, Dadaab, Mandera, and El Wak. Al-Shabaab supporters have also launched grenade and gun attacks at churches, mosques, buses, and other public places in Nairobi, Mombasa, and northern Kenya.
In Central Kenya, a traditionally Kikuyu area, the key danger stems from candidates and their parties using criminal groups and armed gangs to silence opponents and rally support. As with previous elections, politicians seem to have hired gangs, including the violent Mungiki, to intimidate voters. Police have taken no effective action against these Illegal groups despite the passage of a law in 2010 to respond to the threat of armed gangs.
The country will be heading to election polls among eight presidential aspirants who include; Uhuru Kenyatta, Peter Kenneth, Raila Odinga , Martha Karua , Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, James ole Kiyiapi , Paul Muite and Mohamed Abduda Dida. Two top contenders, Kenyatta and Ruto face crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court for allegedly fueling post poll chaos after a flawed presidential vote in 2007.