World Politics & Affairs

Violent Ethnic Politics: The 2017 Kenyan Elections

Should it not be a universally accepted rule of any democracy, that losing parties will accept the electoral result peacefully?

It unfortunately seems as though power-hungry politicians worldwide are neglecting their commitments towards upholding national solidarity in their own, selfish personal interests. Donald Trump is and will not be the only fanatical crybaby who induced national instability by unethically tearing-down his opponents, through his best friend the Internet, of course.

Granted, the 2016 American Presidential Elections were based on a hotbed of tensions which saw the rise of forgotten controversies, mentally-unstable politicians, and the frenzied use of Twitter as a professional slamming tool.

Americans may have been agonizing over the months of build-up, but they should count themselves lucky not to have been swept up in any political violence. Compared to what Kenya has been bracing itself for, the American Election was nothing but the average water-balloon fight.

The 2007 Kenyan Elections erupted into a humanitarian crisis that resulted in the deaths of at least 1200 people. Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner and president of Kenya on December 28.  But despite the fervent prayers of the people, the worst fears of the Kenyan citizenry would come true within days.

Supporters of Raila Odinga, leader of the Orange Democratic movement, alleged electoral manipulation against Kibaki. His vengeful appearance on national television and radio, calling for mass protests against the new federal regime, kindled a domestic disaster which would last for 2 months.

Demonstrators went on violent rampages all over Kenya. Mombasa and parts of Nairobi saw the worst violence, fueled by Odinga’s relentless stream of hate-speech. Police shot hundreds of demonstrators, even peaceful protesters, leading to an uncontrollable increase in rioting. It was reported by KTN Television that 124 people had died within the first 2 days of the election.

The figures of President Kibaki have been inflated by as much as 300 000 votes. That is the kind of rigging we are talking about.

– Raila Odinga, 2007 post-election

As if the political hatred hadn’t shed enough blood, targeted ethnic violence was to come into scarring light as well. Aimed at the Kikuyu tribe, the faction to which President Kibaki belonged, Kalenjin and Luo protestors stopped at nothing to voice their rage.

A quiet New Year’s evening in Kiambaa village was shattered with the screams of 50 Kikuyu women and children as they were burned alive in a dilapidated church.

Tensions in the Rift Valley Province reached an all-time high since the 1992 elections, prompting the retaliation of Kikuyu units – such as the infamous Mungiki – against rival ethnic groups. Slums in Nairobi became stages for bloody gun battles, against the backdrop of a divided Kenya.

Kenyan police broke up 2007 election violence against new President Kibaki violently

The violence only ended on February 28th with the creation of a coalition government between Odinga and Kibaki, and sealed by the National Accord and Reconciliation Act. The next 10 years saw an uneasy but gradual return to tranquility. Even the 2013 Kenyan Presidential Results proceeded peacefully, despite concerns stemming from the rival tribes stockpiling AK-47s and G3 assault rifles prior to the polls. Once again, Kenya – and the rest of the international community with it – breathed a sigh of relief.

So what makes the 2017 Elections such as nerve-racking ordeal for the country? After all, the welcome peace experienced 4 years ago is clear indication that the African nation is more than capable of showing a little decency during elections!

But the opponents facing off this time are members of 2 political dynasties, and the tension between them has been palpable. Raila Odinga, who has failed to secure the top job for 20 years now since the 1997 elections, is neck-and-neck against a formidable opponent – the Jubilee Party.

…the vast majority of Kenyans view President Uhuru Kenyatta more favorably than opposition leader Raila Odinga

– Strategic Africa Survey

Uhuru Kenyatta, the current president of Kenya, is running with vice president William Ruto – a member of the Kalenjin tribe. Clearly, the Jubilee Party has an ethnic edge. Together, the two tribes make up much of Kenya’s population! Even more favorable for the party is the fact that all the presidents of Kenya ‘till now have hailed from either one of these tribes.

Raila Odinga is meanwhile a member of the Luo tribe, and has dissolves his Orange Democratic Movement to create the National Super Alliance (NASA) – a coalition of more than 10 different political parties in Kenya. It is beyond doubt a clash of titans. Current president Kenyatta with all the ethnic advantage in the nation, against Raila Odinga and his loyal multitude of political parties.

To add onto this tension, Mr. Kenyatta has insisted that “if he loses, it will be a result of rigging”. Odinga has been no less vehement, his 20 years of failure in national politics clearly inducing stress. In some places, the tension has reached a breaking point. The poll commission’s top IT manager, Chris Msando, was found dead in a forest bordering Nairobi – tortured and strangled. An American and Canadian working with NASA on their poll strategy were then detained before being wordlessly deported.

Kenyan citizenry are predominantly fed-up with the terror-filled elections they are subject to

Clearly, both sides will stop at nothing to undermine the other, despite their sugar-coated promises of peace and acceptance through the nation. Really, it is quite ironic.

Just like all of Kenya, the entire East African region is praying for a peaceful electoral process. Truly a stable nation in an unstable region, countries such as Eastern Congo, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda depend on Kenya’s Mombasa port as a crucial link to the outside world. While South Sudan has returned to civil war, Ethiopia is crippled by insurgency and Somali persists as a surefire breeding round for the Al-Qaeda, Kenya is the only county easy capable of extending aid to distraught refugees.

Even the US and the UK are worried. They’ve collectively poured 60 million Euros into the country to initiate projects that will contain political violence. Now, the national police is parading with tanks of tear gas, boxes of rubber bullets and boasting with new army trucks. Sending hundreds of body bags to Kisumu, in Western Kenya where the Luto population are a majority, Kenyatta has sent a bold message: Any discontentment with the election results WILL be harshly put down.

Nothing remains to be done as a record 19 million citizens turn out to cast their votes. The whole world waits with bated breath as the election passes and prays that Kenya will not be plunged into another ethnic/political crisis.

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