Preparing for Nonviolent Elections in Kenya


Kenya holds national elections in six months. We must begin work now to ensure peace throughout the entire electoral process. Transforming Community and Social Change (TCSC) is putting in place peace building activities and setting up mechanisms to support Kenyans in coping with potential election violence in a concerted effort to reduce the risk of violence during the 2022 elections. TCSC will:

Train approximately 1,200 citizen reporters from hot spot areas (such as Turbo, Kisumu and Bungoma) to identify early warning indicators, then report to the call-in center for verification and intervention using the Frontline SMS app. Indicators the call-in center will monitor include: hate speech, tribal politics targeting specific communities, incitement and voter bribery.

Train the citizen reporters in basic conflict resolution skills and intervention strategies from programs such as Alternatives to Violence (AVP) and Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) to prevent and mitigate violence.

Monitor, verify, and counter the spread of harmful rumors and misinformation that contribute to conflict by greatly expanding our mobile phone-based information service.

Finally, TSCS will be accredited by the Electoral Commission to observe the August 8th Election. TSCS will observe and document good practices and detect integrity problems in the electoral processes and bring them to the attention of the election management body and the public.

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Why Our Work is Necessary

While elections are often promising, Kenya has developed a firmly established pattern of electoral violence since the rebirth of pluralist democratic politics. Once seen as a beacon of peace in Africa, the 1992, 1997, 2007, and 2017 general elections shattered this image.  Electoral violence killed many and displaced many hundreds of thousands more. While conflict triggers are multi-dimensional and include historical, structural, institutional, legal, and cultural factors, they have always reflected tensions between ethnic identities. This is because the foundation of pluralistic democratic politics in the country was anchored on political party structures that originally segmented the country along ethnic lines.

Although the 2013 general election was relatively peaceful, ethno-political tensions continued to build up in most parts of the country.

This laid the groundwork for violence following the 2017 general election as police and opposition supporters clashed violently, mainly in Nairobi and western Kenya, after the opposition leader questioned the credibility of the results and successfully challenged them in court case. He then refused to participate in the presidential election re-run. We at Transforming Community and Social Change (TCSC), civil society organizations and international non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, raised concerns over grave violations of human rights as protests by opposition supporters were met with excessive use of force by the police, leading to the loss of many lives.

This background is relevant when looking ahead to the 2022 election because many of the same underlying risk factors continue to be present while new expected risk factors have now appeared. These include the following six considerations:

Public expectations of violence – There seems to be a general expectation of violence in 2022. This expectation risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if the state and various political actors do not address the causes of violence and reduce the high level of political polarization. We are currently seeing the two massive supporters of the key presidential aspirants, while the other presidential candidates are facing divisions in their coalition for members not clearly willing to support the suggest among the two. This is dividing the part members and a lot of emotions are seen projecting and word throwing to each other political supporters.

Shifting political alliances and divisions – The ongoing presidential succession debate has created new alliances between former adversaries and enmity between former allies. The current deputy president has become a dissenting voice opposed to the sitting president. Traditional political rivals have been working to bridge their disagreements while established alliances have been breaking apart and threatening new ethno-political divisions.

Exploitation of socioeconomic grievances – There are indications that 2022 may become a class-based contest along the lines of narratives about the “haves and have nots,” which are also known in Kenya as the “dynasties and hustlers.” Kenya’s widespread poverty, severe economic inequality, and long history of ethnically-biased development make such narratives especially appealing to many people with potentially incendiary effects.

Prevalence of misinformation – Kenya has not escaped the deluge of rumors, misinformation and disinformation that exacerbate political and inter-communal tensions in various countries. Due to Kenya’s high degree of digital connectivity, its population, particularly young people who live in regions affected by ethno-political tensions, is easily reached by those who engage in mis or disinformation.  Relatively low levels of digital literacy and limited access to reliable information sources, compound the possibility of manipulating information to incite violence during the election.

COVID-19 impact – The COVID-19 pandemic has severely damaged major economic sectors, disrupted Kenyan society, and worsened the country’s debt burden. The economic and social disruptions induced by the pandemic have eroded progress in poverty reduction in Kenya, forcing an estimated two million more Kenyans into poverty. The economic fallout will almost certainly morph into an election issue as more Kenyans continue to be faced with the widening socio-economic gaps in their society.

from Tommy Zarembka, Transforming Community and Social Change (2/3/2022)