Monday, 24 December 2012

KENYA: '' Presidential Election'': Ethnic Violence Overshadow Campaign

Kenya's last election ended in chaos and violence. Thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands more were displaced. Many fear the upcoming election could bring more violence.  

This time around, the election will be held on 04 March 2013.  It could be the first presidential election held under the new constitution, which was passed during the 2010 referendum and the first to be run by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Above all, it could be the first presidential election where the candidates face a second round run-off between the first and the second if no-one achieves a simple majority in the first round or if the winner does not get 25% of the votes in at least 24 counties.

Last Friday, raiders armed with guns, machetes and spears killed 30 people, including several children, and torched their houses in Kenya's coastal region. This is heightening security concerns ahead of next year's election..Last week incident appeared to have been a revenge attack by settled Pokomo farmers against the semi-nomadic Orma pastoralists after a series of clashes in August in which more than 100 people were killed.

The two groups have fought for years over access to grazing, farmland and water but many analysts put the blame on politicians seeking to drive away parts of the local population they believe, will vote for their rival in the next presidential election in March. It further raises fears of a repeat of the ethnic violence that rocked Kenya after the disputed 2007 presidential election, in which more than 1,200 people were killed countrywide and many more thousands driven from theirs homes.

In 2007 presidential election, ethnic violence erupted after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Both supporters, Mwai Kibaki's and R. Olenga's clashed. The 2007 ethinic violence escalated and a first was directed mainly against Kikuyu people, Mr. Kibaki's community, but in previous elections, for example in 1992 presidential election, some of the Kikuyu also engaged in retaliatory ethnic violence against Mr. Odinga supporters, primarily Luos and Kalenjin. Indeed Kenya has a rich history of post-electoral ethnic violence.

To this day, it remains unclear just who exactly was responsible for the expulsions and ethnic violence. However, both the Kenyans and Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, agree that some of the violence was well-organized.

The ICC has thus admitted a case against four Kenyan individuals for acting as indirect accomplices to murder, displacement and persecution. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that two of the defendants are candidates in upcoming presidential elections -- and are leading most opinion polls.
They are Uhuru Kenyatta, one of the country's richest men and the finance minister until January, and William Ruto, who was likewise a member of the cabinet until he was thrown out on suspicion of corruption.

In early December, the two men announced that they would run as a team, so that Kenyatta could become president and Ruto his vice president. The charges at The Hague allege that both candidates hired criminal bands who went on murderous rampages through the streets. By the time the ICC opens proceedings against the duo in April, it is likely that they will be charging the Kenyan president and vice president.

The situation has many Kenyans worried that their country could be thrust into chaos once again when people go to the polls on March, there have been reports of violent outbreaks across the country. All of these conflicts have at least one ethnic component to them.
The country does have a number of anti-violence projects underway in poor areas, plus a new constitution and strict laws against ethnic incitement. But between the alliance of Kenyatta and Ruto and their biggest opponent, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, there seems to be a return to politics driven by ethnic concerns.

The ICC Chief Prosecutor Bensouda is aware that it could influence the upcoming elections, but she has not let that affect her work. Her job is to achieve justice for the victims of the expulsions and murders,  and prevent another 2007-2008 crisis.

History has tendency in repeating itself when one does not learn the ''lesson of the past''.  I hope that kenyans politicians will spare Kenyans voters of ethnic rhetoric now and then and Kenyans voters will have the maturity of moving forward without eliminating one to another.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo Credit: Raila Odinga, Presidential candidate, Wikip├ędia.