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Kenya: We may not be over the post-election violence of 2007/08 five years later!
This guest blog post by Paul Ogendi gives an insight into the uncertain atmosphere in Kenya ahead of todays contentious election. We also gain an understanding of the tough environment this presents for human rights defenders.
History is very harsh. It also has a way of repeating itself. The whole world should not be shocked if Kenya was to descend into another post-election violence (PEV) scenario after the 4 March 2013 general elections.
Firstly, the ugly 2007/08 post-election violence (PEV) that claimed over 1 000 lives, displaced over half a million people and destroyed property worth millions of shillings has yet to be fully resolved. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were chased away from their land have yet to be resettled and they continue to live in squalid conditions that do not befit human dignity and respect. Surprisingly, the emotive land issue and the embarrassing IDPs situation has been politicized with complete disregard to the repercussions including violence.
Secondly, the stakes in these elections are higher than the previous ones including the fact that these elections have been linked to the International Criminal Court (ICC) cases. In this regard, ethnic alliances have been built in order to win elections and therefore make a statement on the ICC process. The ensuing tribal contest and heightened stakes presents a fertile ground for inter-ethnic violence of a higher magnitude than before.
Thirdly, the newly established Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has no experience of dealing with highly contested and highly polarised presidential elections. In fact, if the performance of the IEBC is to be assessed on the basis of how it handled the political parties’ nominations, then, Kenya is not yet out of the woods.
Lastly, while there is relative calm in the country, pockets of violence have been witnessed in various parts of the country in different forms. For example, campaign violence has been witnessed in some parts. At another level, the social media has transformed into a highly charged battlefield. In fact, the government has had to issue a warning on this issue.
However, the most concerning reports are threats of violence that has resulted into mass exodus by certain ethnic groups as well as the current rampant distribution of campaign materials threatening violence.
On a final point, it is encouraging to see various government departments working in sync with civil society actors putting in place measures to avert any possible crisis before, during and after the elections.
Paul Ogendi is a human rights and democracy expert. He holds a masters degree from the University of Pretoria, Centre for Human Rights (CHR). He also served as a research assistant in the now defunct Independent Review Electoral Commission (IREC, also popularly known as the Kriegler Commission) which was one of the commissions set up to investigate the 2007/08 post election violence (PEV) in Kenya.