Beyond Violence 


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The use of violence has become an inherent feature of Kenya’s politics with elections being a key trigger for localised violence since the advent of multi-party politics in the early 1990s. Disputes over the results of the 2007 general elections led to large-scale inter-ethnic violence that left more than 1500 Kenyans dead and caused the displacement of several hundreds of thousands. In February 2008, the African Union (AU) Panel of Eminent Personalities led by Kofi Annan brokered the Kenyan National Dialogue and Reconciliation Agreement (KNDR), which ended the post-election violence. The Agreement brought the two main competitors to power in a grand coalition government (Mwai Kibaki of Party of National Unity (PNU) as President and Raila Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) as Prime Minister). The promulgation of the new constitution in 2010 was a key landmark in the recent history of Kenya and the beginning of a substantial reform process, which is also aimed at preventing new episodes of ethnic violence at the next general elections scheduled for March 4, 2013.


► Key issues

Political Power

Politics is at the heart of violence in Kenya with elections being a key trigger for conflict. In the past, politicians have significantly contributed to violence by inciting people and using hate speech as a tool to disqualify political opponents and their followers. The highest goal for political leaders is to gain and maintain political power, even if this goal is achieved by sacrificing the lives of hundreds of Kenyan citizens. The recent example is the violent ethnic conflict in Tana River Delta that has caused the death of more than 140 people since August 2012, the majority of which are women and children. MPs are accused of incitement. A UNDP report that maps conflict in Kenya also finds that many people perceive politics as the greatest contributor to conflict.

Negative Ethnicity

There are 42 different tribes in Kenya, the major ones being the Kikuya, Luhya, Luo, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kisii and Meru. Ethnicity, when politicised by elites, is another central feature of conflict in Kenya. In the run-up to the general elections 2007/2008 negative ethnicity and incitement was used frequently to mobilise voters. During the post-election violence, this turned into ethnic violence. Ethnicity is a conflict factor particularly in regions where communities are threatened by other communities, where few indigenous people obtain jobs in schools, NGOs and hospitals etc.. This has led to ethnic tension and in times of conflict, such as during election periods when minorities stand for political posts, violence can be turned against the ‘outsiders’.

Land and Natural Resources

Land is a key issue for local level violence in Kenya, with broader connections to the national political environment. A great part of the current land conflict has its roots in colonial times. Without a framework for handing over land from the colonial masters to the natives, occupied land was given to communities close to the leadership at that time. This continues to cause bitterness. In addition, economic dependency on land, political interference in distribution and ownership, the weakness in land policy and grievances relating to corruption in land allocation practices and forced evictions are the main causes for conflicts over land today. Conflict over land is also very much defined through ethnicity. For example, in the Rift Valley Province, the concept of a self-proclaimed ethnic group in the region (Kalenjin) and the ‘outsiders’ (Kikuyu) illustrates the problem of an ethnic divide which caused violence in the aftermath of the 2007 general elections. The establishment of new districts and the recent creation of a counties reform have led to conflicts between and across communities as everyone, including local leaders and politicians, seeks to have influence over the demarcation of boundaries. Another land-related issue that has been lingering since 2009 is that up to ten thousand Internally Displaced Persons, who were displaced during the post-election violence, have not yet been resettled. Closely related to the land question is the issue of access to natural resources. This conflict factor was central to the recent Tana River clashes between farmers and pastoralist communities. Cattle raiding may become more violent with the increase of access to Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW).

► Key actors

Politicians and Local Leaders

In the past, politicians and local leaders have been greatly involved in violence. During the post-election violence and other times of heightened political tension they have exploited sensitive issues such as the land question and the marginalisation perceived by certain ethnic groups for the purpose of inciting political violence. A key feature in terms of impunity and past violence is that in the current elections,scheduled for March 4, 2013, two leaders of the “Jubilee Alliance”, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and Eldoret North MP Ruto, are facing criminal charges before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity during the post election violence in 2007/2008, which has not stopped them from running. If Kenyatta is victorious, he plans to become president with Ruto as his deputy. The Jubilee Alliance, however, also brings together two leaders from the major tribes (Kikuyu and Kalenjin) which were attacking each other during the post-election violence. This is viewed by some as a positive sign even if it is only an alliance for political reasons and the communities at the grassroots are still not fully reconciled.

Electoral Commission

During the last polls in 2007, it was the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) which was in charge of managing the elections and also had a great impact on the post-election period turning violent. A first factor was the delay in announcing the results which caused great frustration among voters. Additionally, expectations were growing that Raila Odinga had won the elections based on early declarations of results which were mainly from his party's (ODM) strongholds. It was perceived largely as a result of rigging and fraud that a day later Mwai Kibaki was declared president which led to violence in many parts of the country directed against individuals and groups which were thought to have supported Kibaki. The ECK suffered from a lack of credibility as it was largely dependent on the government and many of its members were close to Kibaki. The current Electoral Commission is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) which was founded in November 2011 according to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act of the new 2010 Constitution. The IEBC´s key feature is greater independence, which will be of absolute importance during the upcoming elections. The IEBC’s management of the elections and how they communicate the results to the public will be crucial.

Organised Gangs and the Youth

Organised gangs are often the primary actors in electoral violence in Kenya. These gangs carry out a range of activities with varying degrees of legality and are typically funded by business or political elites. During election times these groups can be mobilised for political ends and the intimidation of opposition parties and their followers. Economic drivers of conflict, such as poverty, unemployment, land and competition for scarce resources, are viewed to be a main factor for sustaining these groups with enough members. Young people in slums or other poor areas are the most vulnerable for being recruited into such organisations.

The Police

The Kenyan public regards the police as a key contributor to violence. Members of the police have been accused of many crimes committed during the post-election violence including the killing of hundreds of people, as well as torture and rape. The report by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC), set up after the events of 2007/2008, which also has the mandate to investigate the violence committed by the police since Kenya gained independence in 1963, has not been released. Impunity has so far prevented any convictions on the matter of police-related violence. As the country is now moving towards the next general elections, the slow pace of the police reform process apparently due to the interference by conservative forces that have traditionally benefitted from partisan policing is still worrisome.

The Media

The Media, in particular local radio stations, played a significant role in the 2007/2008 post-election violence. Joshua Sang, current head of operations at Nairobi-based radio station Kass FM, is indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity during the violence in 2007-2008. The messages local radio stations will broadcast during the upcoming elections and post-election period will be a critical factor. With the liberalisation of airwaves many new local stations have emerged recently and the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) has failed to enforce a code of conduct for radio stations. Recently there was extensive reporting on Kikuyu musicians which were being investigated over hate speech charges. The MCK also criticised the reporting of some FM stations on the coast which were promoting the message Pwani si Kenya (The Coast is not Kenya) from the separatist Mombasa Republican Council. With the key newspapers relatively balanced and responsible in their reporting, it is the television and even more so the local radio stations that will be crucial for peaceful elections.

► Violence

Although Kenya has not experienced any intrastate armed conflicts (between the government and an armed group as defined by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program) since the failed coup in 1982, the country has repeatedly been struck by non-state conflicts. These conflicts were mainly between different tribes who engaged in cattle raids or fought about grazing rights and water. A second type of non-state violence often occurred in the context of elections. There is a variety of underlying structural conflict sources in Kenya. These include historical injustices concerning land, and ethnic discrimination, poverty and marginalisation. Since the introduction of multi-party politics in 1991, elections have been a key trigger in turning underlying conflicts into violence.

► Prospects for non-violent peace transformation

There are many speculations at the moment on how the elections will unfold. Newspapers have been reporting that in the worst case it might take up until June or July before a new president can be sworn in; if uncontested the elections might be concluded as early as the beginning of April. If one coalition does not win clearly in the first round, a second round has to be conducted. There are many different scenarios. However, what is crucial is the credibility of the results and the willingness to leave it up to the judiciary to decide on matters of electoral disputes, rather than taking grievances to the streets. The IEBC as the key manager of the elections plays a crucial role in this. A number of international observers are on the ground, including the EU Election Observer Mission, who are supporting the country to conduct credible and fair elections. Most of all, it is the Kenyan people who want their leaders to act responsibly and want the 2013 general elections to be peaceful. Beyond Violence seeks to form a network of people collectively calling for peaceful, fair and credible elections in Kenya in March 2013.

► Further reading