Kenya’s general elections that took place on 4 March 2013 have been overshadowed by growing concerns over escalating inter-communal and ethnic violence, in what has been feared to be a repeat of the 2007-8 election-related clashes.
Kenya’s increasingly volatile political situation has already claimed more than 477 lives and has left another 118,000 people internally displaced since 2012 according to a report commissioned by Human Rights Watch. Incidents of violence caused by inter-ethnic tensions have rapidly increased in the lead-up to the general elections.
In Kisumu, leaflets have been handed out requesting the eviction of Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes who are politically-allied to the Jubilee Alliance. Reports suggest this is part of a deliberate attempt to incite ethnic and politically-motivated violence by people of the Luo tribe in the lead-up to the elections whose political-alliance traditionally remains with the opposition; presidential candidate Raila Odinga and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
Across Kenya, many shops were closed, fearing a re-run of the post-election crisis of 2007-8, which has been deemed as the worst ethnic violence Kenya has ever witnessed. The sustained and escalating violence has been fuelled, by the government’s failure to tackle the root causes of the post-election crisis and deliver the reforms promised under the new constitution of 2010.
The 2007-8 general elections dissolved into chaos as allegations of corruption and electoral manipulation sparked violence between opposing political supporters, leaving over 600,000 Kenyan’s internally displaced and over 1,300 people dead.
Political support for the two major political parties in contention – the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Raila Odinga and the Party of National Unity (PNU) spearheaded by Mwai Kibaki – was drawn on ethnic grounds and resulted in crimes of genocide 2007-8. Claims that both leaders further incited and planned the violence have been denied by both parties.
The ratification of Kenya’s new Constitution in 2010 attempted to resolve these underlying tensions and signalled a period of renewed optimism by taking steps to decentralise governmental infrastructure, reduce corruption at a provincial level, restrict presidential powers and to further promote national unity.
With many proposed reforms stalled or abandoned due to financial constraints, little has been done to address these issues. Evidence has arisen to suggest the government is in fact legitimising and widening the ethnic divisions, instead of promoting national unification. A recent report by Human Rights Watch suggests the government are significantly favouring the Kikuyu peoples – with the offer of new homes, money or land – and discriminating against the Kalenjin peoples, by refusing to issue them land-ownership documents.
Whilst the judiciary and government seem to have been ineffective in holding the perpetrators of the election violence culpable for their crimes, the International Criminal Court have indicted four politicians on charges of crimes against humanity in relation to their role in violence during the disputed elections.
Two of the indicted current deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former minister William Ruto, previously political foes became running mates, vying for presidential and vice-presidential positions respectively.
Both deny any responsibility in the post-election violence or in harbouring secondary motives for the new alliance as a means of exploiting voters with Mr Kenyatta claiming: “Our alliance is not for fighting anyone. We are uniting on behalf of the people of Kenya.” The trial previously due to commence in April 2013 is to be delayed subject to approval by ICC judges, giving the election front-runners temporary release to focus on their electoral campaigns.
The stakes remain perilously high for the 10 million Kenyans who were expected to vote on 4 March. The echoes of five years ago have left many frightened of the outcome and the potential ramifications of the election.