Elections should be a great time of celebration and unpacking lessons and charting a better way forward. Instead in kenya, elections come as a high alert period. What is the emergency and why all the pressure and uncertainty? Not just this. Every election.
Jerry Rawlings MutuaListener
What is the connection between elections and crisis?
There is a close connection between election and crisis. When an election is conducted, and there is no transparency in the process this will automatically lead to crisis. A good case study is 2007-2008 post election violence in Kenya. The crisis emerged as a result of rigging that took place and hence crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a major blow to the country’s economy and social fabric, uncovering threats to insecurity and violence. The economic vulnerabilities and increase in crime rate will complicate the environment upon which next year’s general elections will be held. Already, the enforcement of pandemic control protocols is causing public agitation and deepening the underlying mistrust between the police and the citizens. Violent incidents such as the ones witnessed in Laikipia in early September 2021 are indications that the situation may get worse going forward. Violence has also been reported in various locations in Laikipia, as incidents of banditry and cattle rustling surge.
Lack of confidence in the capacity of the electoral body
The question about the credibility and capacity of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to deliver free and fair elections hangs over the 2022 elections. Previous polls in 2007 and 2017 were contested with considerable blame on the IEBC for mishandling votes and ‘fixing’ candidates of choice. So far, no concrete legal reforms have been implemented to increase the capacity of IEBC to properly manage the elections. Thus, with dwindling public confidence and low legitimacy on the part of the IEBC, serious concerns arise over the possibility to have a peaceful transition of power.
Prevalence of misinformation and disinformation
The potential spread of rumours and misinformation (including disinformation) may stoke tensions and political polarization ahead of next year’s elections. Over time, Kenya has witnessed a significant rise in digital connectivity with politics becoming largely driven in digital spaces mainly through social media. This does not only make social media a new tool for political mobilisation but also creates an environment primed for misinformation and spread rumours that can potentially incite violence.
Election is a sensitive activity in every democracy. The opportunity for people to choose their leaders makes it impossible to have citizens who will not be contended with the results. The discontent is what breeds crises
There are several risk factors that complicate the 2022 electoral landscape. These include:
Shifting political alliances and divisions
The ongoing debates on presidential succession have created new political alliances and divisions. For the first time in Kenya’s history, the country is approaching an election with the President and his deputy pulling part. The disagreement has caused the disintegration of the ruling Jubilee Party with members of parliament loyal to Deputy President William Ruto regrouping under the new United Democratic Alliance (UDA) Party. At the same time, former alliances like the National Super Alliance (NASA) have broken apart, with new entities such as the Okoa Kenya Alliance (OKA) being formed. What is of much concern is how the formation of new alliances and the disintegration of pre-existing ones cause political fragmentation and division which can be used to fan tensions.
Shifting political narratives
There seem to be a shift in political narratives from what has been predominantly an ethnic identity-based politics to one that seeks to exploit socio-economic grievances. The emerging political narrative centres on the ‘hustler nation versus dynasties’, introduced by Deputy President William Ruto and is now codified under the so-called bottom-up economic model. While this potential shift in the narrative may break the chain of highly ethnicized politics, it portends to heighten class struggle between the majority poor and the minority rich that in the long run may prove even more divisive and significantly destabilizing.
Pandemic-induced insecurity and violence
For many Kenyans, the rigging of the 2007 presidential election was the final betrayal of that agenda for change. Voting on December 27 proceeded smoothly with record numbers of registered voters and a record turnout. The parliamentary results were swiftly tallied and announced on December 29, resulting in major losses for the ruling Party of National Unity (PNU) party. The presidential vote, however, soon took a different turn.
Reaction across the country was swift and violent. Protests erupted even before the announcement of the presidential result on December 30, as delays and irregularities in the count sparked rumors of rigging. The government banned public gatherings and the police confronted street protests with excessive force, killing and wounding hundreds of peaceful demonstrators with live ammunition. Meanwhile, some people took advantage of the lack of law and order to loot, rape, and riot.
Mobilized opposition supporters-especially in the Rift Valley and the slums of Nairobi-attacked those whom they assumed had voted for Kibaki, and his PNU, in large part the Kikuyu. This assigned an ethnic dimension to the violence and angry Kikuyu then fought back.
Politics in Kenya has become to a large extent about competition between ethnic groups, and the 2007 election campaign had emphasized the ethnicity of the candidates and the parties. The opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) built a political coalition based on the widespread perception that the Kibaki government had entrenched tribalism and governed in the interests of the Kikuyu community. The PNU, on the other hand, made Luo cultural traditions a target, claiming that an uncircumcised man could not rule Kenya. It was unsurprising therefore that the violence following the rigging should take an ethnic form. Indeed, pre-election violence in Kuresoi, Molo, and Mount Elgon throughout 2007 foreshadowed what was to come.