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Red flag up as politicians stir animosity ahead of next year’s elections

COUNTIES
By Kipchumba Some | March 20th 2016

The writing is on the wall. If politicians don’t tame reckless speech; if the erosion of public confidence in independent commissions continues; and if tribal animosity is not contained; next year’s General Election could turn violent.

Observers of Kenya’s political affairs say the warning signs are all over that the polls – only 505 days away – would be a do-or-die contest; quite literally.

“The August 2017 elections are projected to be the most competitive and perhaps most violent in Kenya’s political and electoral history,” said Captain Collins Wanderi, a retired military officer, now a private consultant.

“The ominous signs are everywhere. The number of candidates for all elective positions will be unprecedented. Mobilisation based on region, ethnicity, clanism and religion is happening openly,” he said.

Wanderi said analysis of security incidents over the past one year indicate that 22 counties would be the main flash points for vicious political competition.

Two weeks ago, a man was seriously injured in a clash between Jubilee supporters and those of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) during a voters’ registration exercise in Kariobangi North, Nairobi County. The issue at hand was the mass “importation” and transfer of voters aimed at tilting the numerical strength of certain ethnic communities in the capital city ahead of next year’s polls.

Heightened tension

Security analyst George Musamali cautions that the violence could be more widespread and worse than those of 2007/08 which pushed Kenya to the edge.

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“We are hurtling towards the edge very fast and we seem not to care. The situation is dire and must be contained now before it gets out of hand,” he said.

Heightened political tensions characterised by use of unsavoury language by leaders and the deployment of State security machinery to harass the Opposition are some of the signs that all is not well. Worse still, key institutions charged with ensuring free, safe and credible elections seem compromised or are suffering from low public confidence.

“The diagnosis as of now is that if we don’t take preemptive action, we are once again headed to the abyss,” said lawyer Bobby Mkangi, a member of the Committee of Experts which wrote the 2010 Constitution.

“Because of the failure of political parties and concerned institutions to reflect on what is happening, the stakes will be high and anything small might trigger a conflict,” he said.

The violence that raged between the end of December 2007 and the end of February 2008 left 1,133 people dead and another 660,000 displaced, according to government figures. It was largely assumed that the indictment of six high-profile leaders at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the 2007/08 post-election violence (pev) would deter other politicians keen on taking power by all means.

Yet eight years after those events and little more than one and half years to the next polls, there is evidence that the hatred and political intolerance that fed the monster of the post-election violence are back.

Back to the voter transfer saga. Central Kenya leaders are on record telling their supporters to flock Nairobi and register as voters in order to wrestle the governor’s seat currently held by CORD’s Evans Kidero.

“Everyone has the right to transfer his or her vote and this has led us to mobilise our people to come and vote in Nairobi,” Kikuyu Council of Elders Chairman Wachira Kiago told a meeting of Central Kenya leaders at Kasarani stadium in February.

Similarly, Deputy President William Ruto has urged members of the Kalenjin community to register in large numbers in Lang’ata Constituency to enable a member of the community capture the seat held for a long time by CORD leader Raila Odinga. While it is not illegal for voters to transfer to other stations, the mass transfer creates fears of political domination among communities that have a long history of political antagonism between them.

Indelicate language

At the same time, politicians are once again using indelicate language against each other or certain communities, just as it happened in the run up to the 2007/08 post-election violence.

So far, four politicians from both sides of the political divide and a popular analyst have either been charged or are under investigation for using unsavoury language against their opponents.

They are Machakos Senator Johnstone Muthama, Kiambu Governor William Kabogo and Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria. Others are former Nairobi Mayor George Aladwa and political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi.

Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko is yet to file charges against Mombasa politician Suleiman Shahbal for comments he made in January about rigging the election or buying victory for Jubilee in 2017.

“We are extremely worried about what is going on,” said Mr Francis Kaparo, the chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), the body charged with cracking down on hate speech.

The commission has come under fire for not doing more to tame loose tongues. But Kaparo said NCIC has so far recommended the prosecution of 17 people over hate speech, resulting in three convictions.

 

And just as it happened in the run up to the 2007/08 violence, certain radio stations are accused of openly propagating biased ethnic agenda, especially in relation to Nairobi politics.

Ms Atsango Chesoni, a former commissioner with Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, said she is baffled by the high level of intolerance among Kenyans today.

“In 2005, we were not even contemptuous of each other as we are today,” she said. Over the past two weeks, Kenyans have been treated to the high drama of the State trying to harass opposition leaders in a style reminiscent of the dark days of suppressing dissent.

It reduced the number of police officers assigned to protect Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir. The three have also been ordered to surrender their firearms.

The government claimed it was only reducing the number of security officers assigned to VIPs, but the crude manner in which it was done left a sour taste in the Opposition rank and file. Coincidentally, the three had just delivered victory for the Opposition in the Malindi by-election despite heavy investment in the campaigns by the government.

CORD got more votes from the Coast in the 2013 elections, but Jubilee is keen on making inroads into the region ahead of the 2017 polls.

Harden hearts

According to Khalid Hussein, the director of Haki Africa – a human rights group based in Mombasa – Jubilee is “taking one step forward and two steps backwards” in their attempt to win over the region.

By frustrating these Coast leaders, the government risks hardening the hearts of a population in which it has invested so much over the past three years, he said.

Just as the Rift Valley was the epicentre of the violence in 2007, the Coast, given the lethal cocktail of claims of historical marginalisation and land issues, could as well be the centre of the next chaos.

In a way, Joho’s tribulations parallel the arrest and prosecution in 2004 of Deputy President William Ruto by the Kibaki government for allegedly hiving off and selling parts of Ngong Forest land. His supporters read mischief in the move and linked the arrest to Ruto’s stand on the constitutional review process, which was at variance with the government position.

Ruto’s arrest and a set of other small incidents, including the brief closure of Kass Fm radio that broadcasts in Kalenjin, instilled among the community a feeling that the Kibaki regime was persecuting their leaders and awakened a deep sense of nationalism.

“The government should take a step backward and evaluate the long-term import of its current strategies in Coast. It needs to adopt a more friendly strategy to pull people together rather than intimidate leaders here,” said Khalid.

The Malindi mini-poll was the first time the government was openly using state security machinery for political purposes since President Kibaki unwisely sent thousands of Administration Police officers to opposition strongholds as agents of his Party of National Unity, just two days to the 2007 polls.

Viewed from a wider perspective, this brazen use of state security for partisan political purposes speaks to the loss of public confidence in key institutions meant to guarantee a safe, free and fair electoral process.

Just as it was in the run up to the 2007 polls, the electoral body is once again suffering from an acute image crisis.

CORD accuses the Independent, Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of favouring Jubilee in the 2013 polls and has alleged, though without proof, that it is planning to do the same next year. Jubilee has steadfastly defended the IEBC, reinforcing the impression that the commission is doing the government’s bidding.

The recently concluded by-elections in Malindi and Kericho afforded the commission the best opportunity to prove its professionalism and impartiality.

The jury is still out as to how it performed. But IEBC is yet to explain why the electronic voter tallying system failed in some polling stations in Malindi, forcing the vote counting to be conducted manually. The same system crashed in the 2013 polls which led to claims by CORD that it had been deliberately manipulated to favour Jubilee.

Against this backdrop of waning public confidence in the electoral body is the stark warning by Justice Johann Kriegler, the chairman of the Independent Review Commission which was formed in 2008 to look into all aspects of the 2007 poll.

In presenting his report, Kreigler cautioned: “Unless Kenya’s electoral infrastructure is fundamentally reformed, the 2008 post-election violence may look like a picnic.”

Tribal clashes

Bishop Cornelius Korir of the Eldoret Catholic Diocese said it is imperative for IEBC to be transparent. “They need to remove doubts in people’s minds by doing things openly,” he said. After he was sworn in under the cover of darkness in 2007, President Kibaki challenged whoever was unhappy with his disputed victory to take their grievances to court.

The suggestion was received with derision by the Opposition since Kibaki had single handedly picked the High Court and Court of Appeal judges. Thus the Opposition took to the streets to seek the justice they were sure they would not find in the courts. The result was the death of more than 1,133 Kenyans.

Since then, the Judiciary has been reformed a great deal under the new Constitution, but it is evident it has a long way to go to win the faith of ordinary Kenyans, least of all a skeptical Opposition. The graft scandal facing Supreme Court Judge Philip Tunoi is the Opposition’s prove that the Judiciary is still a den of corruption.

Ms Chesoni said although these institutions enjoy legal protection from Executive interference, “the people who head them are worse than those who served in these commissions under the old Constitution”.

Full-blown conflicts have always been preceded by clashes between neighbouring communities supporting different political parties. This seems to be the case currently.

Last week, flare-ups between the Kalenjin and Kikuyu communities were reported in Elburgon, Nakuru County. Elburgon was one of the towns hardest hit by the 2007/08 violence. In addition, there have been flare-ups between the Maasai and the Kikuyu communities in Naivasha. These clashes have been attributed to conflicts over land.

Sporadic clashes have also occurred recently along the Kisii-Sotik border and along the Muhoroni–Nandi borders. Cattle rustlers have been blamed for these clashes.

“History teaches us that the bad-blood that develops between these communities as a result, can easily be harnessed for political purposes during election times,” said Bishop Korir. “Let’s get a firm grip of the situation before it gets out of hand.”

The Jubilee administration finds itself in the position similar to the one the Kibaki government found itself after the 2005 failed constitutional referendum.

As it approaches the next elections Jubilee is weighed down by corruption scandals and unfulfilled pre-election promises. As a result, the Opposition feels that the government has sufficiently lost favour among the electorate that it is unable to win the next polls.

Declarative statements bordering on such as “Jubilee must fall” are rife in Opposition quarters. “The danger is if the election does not go their way. Will they accept the results?” asked Mr Musamali.

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