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We need to consider non-forceful responses to electoral violence

By Kamau Wairuri | Published Sun, July 30th 2017 at 00:00, Updated July 29th 2017 at 18:55 GMT +3

Elections undoubtedly present tremendous challenges for our security agencies. Their actions or omissions are under great scrutiny from observers both local and international. They have often been accused by politicians of being used to influence the election in favour of the incumbent.

From our history, it is evident that the role of the police and other security agencies in elections has not been entirely innocent.

The Kriegler and Waki Commissions gave a damning account of our police relating to the 2007 election debacle. These criticisms ensured that police reform became one of the key agenda items in the governance reforms that the country was to undertake. The new Constitution anchored these reforms including the merger of the two police forces – Kenya Police and Administration Police – under one Inspector General. A more critical one however, was the attempt to change the orientation of the police from regime security to citizen security and hence the change of name from police force to police service.

Over the last few years, moments have arisen that have provided an insight into the actual changes that have occurred in the police.

To be fair, there has been a marked improvement in the preparedness of the police to public disturbances and disasters especially since Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet, took over the reigns at Vigilance House.

However, there have been moments when they have showed the same forceful orientation as before. Case in point was the forceful response to the protests organised by the opposition to force out the IEBC Commissioners.

With respect to the forthcoming election, the IG and his bosses have not hesitated to inform us that they are prepared to respond to any threats that arise during the election period. For me, one of the most important signal of the commitment by the police to improve their performance this time is their coming together with other government agencies including the IEBC, National Cohesion and Integration Commission earlier in the year to develop the Electoral Security Arrangement Programme that will see over 180,000 security officers trained and deployed to secure the election nationwide. The most impressive bit here is the evidence of prior preparation and, the unity of purpose between several agencies.

In a recent interview with Jeff Koinange, the IG noted that the police have learnt the importance of preventative action. Unfortunately, it appears that the focus of police communication regarding their preparedness to respond to threats during the forthcoming election is overly focused on a demonstration of might, ostensibly to deter would-be disturbers with less attention paid to convincing the broad majority, the peaceful lot, that they will be safe from threats from other citizens and from the police. Kenyans have not yet forgotten the dark past; it’s still living memory.

The surprising thing to me is that we are overly focused on the police and are paying less attention to the other agencies responsible for promoting peace and resolving conflict. As such, we are debating more on forceful interventions. We know that the use of force can escalate conflicts but we seem to be disregarding other options.

For instance, we know that several counties have been marked as violence ‘hotspots’, by observers. Yet, beyond the police, we have paid less attention to how some of these conflicts would be resolved if the prediction prove correct.

At a recent event at which the International Crisis Group launched a report on the new challenges in the Rift Valley emanating from devolution, the question of how to resolve county level conflicts was one of the most pertinent.

At the national level, we can rely on international mediators to bring warring parties together. Who would we call upon on to resolve conflicts at the county level?

- The writer is a researcher and analyst in Nairobi.

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