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January 16, 2019

Entrenched poll violence a danger to Kenya’s young democracy

Zero poll violence
Zero poll violence

To establish the quality of life of a certain household without conducting a direct interview, economists sometimes use what can be loosely referred to as the trash can test. The economist analyses contents of the dustbin of the household and, depending on the quality of the rubbish, is able to know the family’s income and purchasing power.

This test is essentially a method where an analyst looks at a set of facts as presented to him in reality, and works backwards to establish that which underlies those facts. Conclusions are arrived at by implication.

In Kenya, certain conversations usually take centre-stage without fail whenever the country is about to go into a general election. A critical analysis of these conversations often reveals the public psyche that Kenyans have every election year.

One conversation that dominates public discourse whenever the country faces a general election is the call for peaceful polls. Already, civil society organisations such as the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya have started the conversation about violence-free elections by calling upon Kenyans to conduct themselves peacefully irrespective of the high stakes on August 8.

In a July 2016 report released by the Institute for Security Studies, it was pointed out that, despite the IEBC’s efforts to strengthen electoral processes, perceptions remain that it would not be able to guarantee a free and fair election.

As the IEBC’s integrity, credibility, independence and public stature are called into question, confidence in its ability to deliver a credible election is sharply divided along the two leading coalitions contending for power.

Consequently, the National Police Service issued a situation analysis report in which it identified areas with the highest potential for election-related violence.

And after sending a fact-finding delegation in April 2017, the Washington-based National Democratic Institute published a report in which it warned that chances of electoral violence have been heightened by an “extremely polarised” political environment.

“Virtually everyone with whom the delegation met expressed serious concern about the potentials for violence. Numerous stakeholders asserted to the delegation that the question is not whether there will be violence, but how much and where,” NDI said in its report.

The International Monetary Fund also weighed in with a situation analysis report, which says the election may “heighten political instability.” Consequently, the IMF cut its 2017 growth forecast for Kenya to 5.3 per cent from an earlier six per cent projection. These red flags can only imply one thing—that, come election time in Kenya, violence is the rule and not the exception.

While raising the red flag over electoral violence is the appropriate thing for a civilised society such as Kenya to do, the worrying thing is that such warnings only serve to address the symptoms of a problem instead of dealing with its root causes. It’s like wrapping a bandage over a cancerous tumour.

It, therefore, appears that election violence has become the norm such that, as NDI pointed out, it is no longer a question of if but when, how much and where. When election violence becomes a fait accompli, men and women of good conscience must stand up and denounce this state of affairs and lead the country back to the right path.

In this regard, there is need for government and civil society to embark on a sustained campaign of peaceful elections in order to create a stable society where peace, not violence, is the predictable thing every election year.

We need to aspire to and achieve levels of political maturity such as those in Japan, where the turnover of political regimes is one of the highest in the world, yet the only volatility that is experienced during elections is the occasional but manageable fluctuation of the financial and securities market.

To achieve the kind of political maturity where election violence is relegated to the annals of history, Kenyans may have to put in place effective ways of ensuring that elections are free and fair, and that the election management system is credible.

But one can argue, and correctly so, that the need for free and fair elections is an imperative already inscribed in law.

The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.




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