Since Kenya achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1963, the country has sought social, political, and economic prosperity. There have been concerted efforts over the years by each successive government to deal with three main enemies: poverty, ignorance and disease. Kenya has witnessed the emergence of powerful political movements and leaders determined to restore the dignity of its citizens through justice, democracy, the rule of law, and the economic liberation of the Kenyan people.
A History of Violence
As a democratic republic, Kenya holds elections every five years. Each election cycle has been characterized by unique conditions arising from the people’s desire for alternative leadership who reflect their hopes and dreams. However, many previous elections have involved significant violence that has claimed lives, caused massive destruction of property, and displaced many Kenyans.
The general elections of 1992, 1997, 2007, and 2017 were particularly dark moments in Kenya’s political history. These elections involved ethnic clashes, police brutality, extrajudicial killings, and violence that left many dead and hundreds of thousands of others displaced. The recurring violence in each election cycle in Kenya is due to various factors including electoral disputes, ethnic tensions, political polarization, unequal distribution of resources, historical injustices, and poor governance, among others. Although human rights organizations, religious groups, and the international community have regularly emphasized the need address these issues, the government of Kenya has yet to demonstrate a good faith commitment to finding lasting solutions. The public now expects violence to erupt, even during the 2022 general elections. This risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if the state and various political actors fail to address the many underlying causes of violence or to overcome high levels of political polarization.
A Legacy of Fear
Many Kenyans live in constant fear of violence erupting during and after elections, particularly in urban centers such as Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. The same applies to those living in violence-prone areas in the Rift Valley, such as Eldoret, Nakuru, Molo, Kericho, and Naivasha.
In the late 1980s, multiparty democracy swept across Africa. Kenyan opposition leaders began to challenge then-President Daniel Arap Moi’s brutal one-party tyranny. The struggle for multiparty democracy was characterized by arbitrary arrests, detentions, political assassinations, police brutality, and harassment of the opposition. A multiparty system was finally introduced in 1992. The movement for better governance has continued and Kibaki’s election victory in 2002 marked what many felt was a second national liberation. However, it is clear today that freedom fighters’ dreams for a prosperous Kenya have not yet been achieved, given the many unfulfilled promises and historical injustices the Kenyan people have faced. These issues continue to be a source of fear for the 2022 elections.
The post-election violence in 2007 was the most tragic period of violence in Kenya’s history. This resulted from a disputed presidential election between Raila Odinga and then-President Mwai Kibak. The Independent Commission of Kenya (ICK) failed to determine which candidate had legitimately won the election. The December 2007 contest was followed by months of ethnopolitical violence that is estimated to have killed 1,200 people and forced more than 500,000 others to flee their homes.
This violence primarily impacted multiethnic low-income areas in Nairobi, Naivasha, Kisumu, and Mombasa and also took a significant toll on trade and business. Mediation efforts by African Union. chaired by Mr. Kofi Annan, resulted in the signing of the National Accord, a political compromise between the two presidential candidates, and the formation of a broad coalition government with Kibaki as president and Raila as prime minister. Religious groups, civil society organizations, and government institutions pushed to establish a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to address the underlying causes of political violence, historical injustices, and gross human rights violations. The TJRC report was submitted to Kibaki’s administration and later the Jubilee government, but neither has implemented the report’s recommendations thus far.
As a result, the underlying causes of electoral violence, historical injustices, and gross human rights violations have not been addressed and the TJRC report did not contributed to national unity, reconciliation, or healing. The scars of previous violence remain unhealed and are likely to provoke further violence in the 2022 general elections. The triggers of these conflicts are multi-dimensional and include historical, structural, institutional, legal, and cultural factors, as well as ethnic tensions.
The general elections of 2013 were relatively peaceful. Nevertheless, ethnic hostilities continued to escalate in many parts of the country. A series of massacres took place in Tana River County in late 2012 and early 2013, resulting in the death of over 170 people, with many more wounded and tens of thousands displaced. Distrust and resentment have continued to grow in the Rift Valley, Nyanza, and Nairobi due to the state’s failure to address underlying causes of violence as per the TJRC report. This paved the way for further violence following the 2017 general elections. Police and opposition forces clashed, primarily in Nairobi and western Kenya, after opposition leader Raila Odinga questioned the credibility of the elections, successfully challenged the results in court, and then refused to participate in the new presidential elections. Odinga’s supporters believe that the electoral malpractice that caused the 2017 presidential election results to be thrown out have still not been addressed. A significant number of these supporters have demanded electoral reforms to restore public confidence in the IEBC’s ability to conduct free, fair, credible, and verifiable elections on 9 August 2022. The lack of public confidence in this electoral body has increased tensions among many Kenyans, with some threatening to boycott the election.
Political intolerance and violence have been rampant during the run-up to the 2022 general elections. In Murang’a, Githurai, and Kisii, a series of by-elections and political meetings were marred by inflammatory statements directed at the proponents of the Building Bridges Initiatives (BBI) and the government’s indifference to the rising cost of basic commodities such as maize flour, cooking oil, and petroleum products. If the government does not adequately address these economic conditions, it will be a recipe for violence during the election period.
The new political developments and alliances that have emerged as the campaigns approach 9 August 2022 have provoked anxiety about the elections, which has led to an exodus from violence-prone cities. The ongoing debate over presidential succession has also fostered new alliances between former adversaries as well as enmity between former allies. Current Deputy President William Ruto has become a dissenting voice challenging the president. Socioeconomic grievances are central to the upcoming elections: there are indications that the 2022 elections could be split along class lines of "haves and have-nots," or the "dynasties" and the "hustlers," as they have been called in Kenya. Kenya’s widespread poverty, severe economic inequality, and long history of development along ethnic lines make such binary narratives appealing to many people, with potentially incendiary effects. These narratives continue to polarize an already fractured nation and could result in violence during the lead-up to the general elections.
As the 9 August 2022 general elections draw closer, peace-building efforts during this process have become an urgent matter. This is an opportunity for a concerted effort by various actors to reduce the risk of violence in 2022 by implementing peace-building initiatives at the local level. The electoral body, the IEBC, is responsible for conducting free, fair, and credible elections to promote democracy, uphold the rule of law, and foster peace and stability in Kenya. The candidates also have a civic duty to maintain a climate of peace and tolerance before, during, and after the elections and to accept the outcome of the elections.