The 2007-8 Post Election Violence in Kenya erupted in the country due to reactions to a “contested election” which then later took a life of its’ own and became a fully blown conflict rocking the entire region and the world. To say that the violence was just as a result of the election dispute would be to over-simplify the root causes of the real monster. The Post Election Violence or PEV had built itself from other causes which have remained unresolved up to now by the many government regimes since Independence.
According to a paper submitted by Bobby Mkangi and Nyambura Githaiga titled “Kenya’s new constitution and conflict transformation” which was published in the Institute for Security Studies in February 2012, the writers contend that the conflict which happened was triggered by political processes (General election). While we have had similar conflicts in 1992 and 1997 respectively, the 2007 Post Election Violence version acted as the mother of all conflicts which nearly brought the country to its’ knees. What happened during this period is still haunting the country to the extent that the ICC has had to prosecute four prominent personalities whom it accuses as the key perpetrators of the violence. The famous “Waki envelope” which had the names of persons that The Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV, popularly known as the Waki Commission, had recommended that they be investigated further for their role in the violence was eventually handed over to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Four of the initial six are expected to stand trial for various crimes that were committed during the occurrence of the violence. This matter has however, taken a different dimension with two of the ICC suspects having expressed their intentions to run for the country’s presidency in the coming general elections. They continue to criss- cross the nation with their campaigns for this position in light of the elections being expected to be held in a few months’ time. Will the same violence be played out again this time round? This is the biggest question on the minds of the entire world, and with the enactment of a new constitution in 2010, it is believed that no politician will dare cross the path of the law.
The conflict according to the report, borrowed its’ links heavily from the 1992 and 1997 violence which then degenerated further causing forced displacement, loss of lives, destruction of property and other atrocities. In view of this, the Kenyan conflict must be addressed in light of the recent changes/ developments seen with the enactment of the new constitution on the 27th August, 2010. Knowing how our country’s history has been like, and understanding the many injustices that have been occasioned to the people living there, great effort must be made to avoid a recurrence of the conflict when the next elections are held. It is important that such factors which could trigger violence are put in check and solutions found, without which we may not move forward with confidence. Some of the factors include; Youth unemployment, poverty, inequality, regional development imbalances, and addressing impunity while advocating for transparency and accountability, continues the report. A letter by Collins Cheruiyot (who is a Pan-Africanist) and which was published by the Pambazuka newsletter of 5th April, 2012 titled “Let’s not joke with the emotive land question” sums up part of what might have triggered the violence that rocked the nation – Land. He says “Key issues putting pressure on land use include population pressure, climate change, declining soil fertility, demand for global food and fuel security, desertification, exclusion of locals in governance and management, and inter-ethnic resource conflicts especially in areas originally expropriated for resettlement and inadequate capacities in the land sector. Secured access to land is a prerequisite for sustainable agriculture, national development and prosperity for all” (http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/letters/81302)
The new constitution may not be able to cure all the conflict together with the root causes but it instead offers a framework where other institutions created can thrive more effectively. Such institutions include the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Constitution Implementation Commission, The creation of a revamped judiciary with a Supreme Court, Adoption of a devolved governance structure (which is expected to take effect after the next general elections) and many more.
The Kenya conflict was eventually diffused with the help of Kofi Annan, former UN secretary General, and two others namely; Benjamin William Mkapa and Graca Machel who assisted in developing Agenda Four. This “Agenda Four”, as it is known locally embraced the following objectives:
Out of these Agenda Four issues, we have managed to have a new constitution passed, which introduced new frameworks while making modifications to the existing structures.
So, will we ever see a repeat of 2007-08 and a return to anarchy come the next general election?
Certainly not! The country has gone through a difficult path and while on it, it has managed to learn some vital lessons which continue to shape the course of our existence as a people and nation which believes in participatory democracy and empowering its’ citizenry. This has seen the creation of a constitutional body tasked with conducting elections and referenda, registering voters and delimiting constituencies and wards.
Also, we have seen an improvement in the respect of human rights and reduction in significant proportion of violations of individual rights by state organs that include the police and the army. We do now have the voice to stand up and ask that human rights be respected for each and every person no matter their status in the society. Incidents where violations are reported should be kept in check and culprits brought to book. The recent police brutality on peaceful participants who had planned to congregate at a hotel in Limuru to counter the meeting by tribal groupings of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin leaders is not a good sign for growing democracy. Heavy deployment of police was done to stop the participants from holding their meeting which was meant to counter the recent tribal groupings’ agenda. This is a great area of concern because it takes the country back to the dark ages of our history where human rights violations occurred and nothing was done to right these wrongs committed. The slow pace of police reforms is therefore a worrying matter which might be a tool that could ignite violence when the next elections are held. The image of the police during the last election has not been that impressive and unless the surgery that was done in the judiciary is also carried there, we should brace ourselves for worse times ahead. A sneak preview to our next door neighbor Uganda has shown how the police can be used to fight activists who are agitating for a paradigm shift in the governance of their country. The media has been showing clips of inhuman treatment by the police through the use of force, spraying of coloured water, lobbying of teargas canisters, beatings and even killings. A pressure group (Activists for Change - A4C) that was at the fore-front of the walk to work campaign was last month declared an illegal society by the Attorney General and its’ activities outlawed. Their continued agitation for change in the governance of Uganda has rubbed the regime on the wrong side. This group has since mutated and eventually registered as “For God and My Country –G4C. Time will tell what will become of this group in light of the current strong position the government has adopted on the opposition and an intolerant police force that has little regard for human rights of the people. Kenya must not allow this ugly head of intolerance to rear its’ head again in our police service. The latest controversy surrounding the manner in which the A4C Women Activist’ Ingrid Turinawe by the police in full view of the media is a further example of police brutality. The police, while effecting arrest on the person of Ingrid went as far as molesting her dignity as a woman, with the pulling of her breast by a male policeman. How can we admit such a neighbour to our East African community when they have no regard to human rights? Will we be able to move freely and associate, assemble, and express our views without fear of being arrested?
The trend in the region should be geared towards entrenching democratic governance and not wallowing in dictatorial suffocation perpetuated by few power hungry leaders. Holding on to power by all means will eventually suck the space of any air that would have helped nurture growth and development. We are called upon as citizens of the region to hold our systems to account and the leaders too. For when we abdicate this responsibility to them, they are bound to trample on us. We are going to break the jinx this time round with the choices we are going to make when elections are called. That is our future!!