I write this article with deep sadness as a conflict resolution and political scientist who has seen and experienced what is happening in Kenya. Any keen observer of Kenyan politics would wonder why elections in Kenya should always be associated with chaos?
At what point in Kenya’s history as a nation, did bloodletting become part of the Presidential and General Elections?
In Kenya today, elections; mini or major are synonymous with chaotic scenes in most parts of the country. It is something that must stop for the prosperity of this country that commands respect across the world.
If the kind of violence and chaos that Kenyans continue to experience around elections in Kenya isn’t contained it could be a premonition of things to come as Kenyans prepare to go to the General Elections in 2022. And while the recent conflict in Kibra is a wakeup call, it has not come as a surprise given Kenya’s history of election violence, this history as Karl Marx once said, history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.
Since the advent of multiparty politics, Kenya has consecutively witnessed ethnic tension and violence around election time. Only the 2002 and 2013 polls stand out as being relatively peaceful.
But the politicians seem not to be learning any lessons at all. They continue to invoke the dark spirits that almost took the country to the brink of collapse in 2007, where a trajectory of ethnic animosity led to loss of lives, hundreds of thousands rendered homeless/displaced – basically the use of disputed elections has been used to bring underlying issues of accrued anger and hatred to the fore.
The ethnic tensions have continued to build up across the country. The theatre for this vicious ethnic-driven political intolerance has mostly been on social media platforms which are dominated by young Kenyans and perpetuated by politicians in political gatherings who should otherwise provide positive direction to the youth.
The flame that is being fanned on social media is growing into a fire as politicians hit early campaign trail. While leaders engage in polarising rhetoric, it’s the youth who become either perpetrators or victims of political violence.
Today, the Orange Democratic Movement – ODM and a section of politicians allied to Deputy President William Ruto (Jubilee) are engaged in a political supremacy war that, if unchecked early, threatens to tear this nation apart. Violence and electoral malpractices of whatever nature from any quota must not be tolerated.
The former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has been an advocate of democracy and fair play. He must be seen to be living by his words and so should DP Ruto in mobilising their supporters. These two leaders have the power to reign in on their troops and supporters to play by the rules and avoid inflammatory words that only serve as a recipe for chaos. The Kenyan politicians must endeavor to build pragmatic political parties that are rooted in ideology rather than individuals or ethnicity-based.
The sad truth which Kenya must confront is that Kenya’s political parties, and so are most African nations, coalesce around individuals and ethnic communities rather than ideology.
Kenyans have sustained the advocacy for a violent-free atmosphere before, during and after elections but it’s Kenyans who can ultimately put a stop to ethnopolitical violence.
Meanwhile, the institutions mandated to ensure peaceful elections in the country must actively discourage violence. For instance, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission which is set to have new commissioners must fulfill its mandate. The commission is a statutory organ established against the backdrop of a reconciliation pact agreed after the 2007 post-election skirmishes. It is charged with ensuring sustainable peaceful coexistence among Kenyans.
Additionally, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has a crucial role in mitigating political violence by conducting free, fair and credible elections by dealing firmly with any threats to that effect- IEBC can’t afford to abdicate this role. So Kenya needs a new electoral system that safeguards and stops violence.
Dr. David Matsanga
Chairman of Pan African Forum (UK)Ltd