Kenya’s history of election violence is threatening to repeat itself
By Sekou Toure Otondi
In April Kenya saw an increase in intra-party political violence following the start of its political party primaries that began on April 13 and run for two weeks.
The primaries are “mini-polls” held by political parties to choose which candidates will vie for seats in the general election that will be held on August 8th.
The focus initially was on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which was the first party to begin the nomination process. The ODM was formed in 2007 and is one of Kenya’s main political parties.
From the start of the ODM primaries chaos continued to mar the process. The worst cases of political violence were witnessed in Migori in south-western Kenya and Ruaraka in Nairobi. In both cases violence between rival camps led to injuries.
The Busia County primaries, which were the first to take place, also ended in chaos. Busia is a county in western Kenya on the border with Uganda.
The primaries are ongoing and continue to be characterised by palpable tension.
A storm was also gathering within the ruling Jubilee Party, which began its nominations on Friday April 21. Its preparations was also characterised by internal party tensions.
In Kirinyaga County in central Kenya supporters of two contenders for the gubernatorial seat clashed violently at a prayer rally. That must have been a foretaste of things to come because the first day of the Jubilee primaries was so disorganised that the party announced a nationwide postponement of the nomination exercise.
Kenya’s elections laws require all political parties to undertake internal party primary elections. But it’s a requirement they’d rather not fulfill.
The truth is that Kenya’s political parties coalesce around individuals and ethnic communities rather than ideology. This has made the running of party primaries an arduous task as dejected aspirants often troop to rival political formations after losing in a primary.
This means that parties have to contend with the nightmare of shifting alliances close to the general election.
Rivalry behind the chaos
Party-primary violence has been intense in regions where the main political parties command a strong following. Aspirants who are nominated in their party strongholds have a much better chance of winning. This means that the battle for the nominations is fierce and aspirants often resort to violence against their opponents.
Despite having disciplinary mechanisms the main political parties have failed to rein in those instigating chaos. They usually impose fines on offenders instead of taking more drastic measures such as a suspension or expulsion.
The fact that most politicians can easily raise the fines has bred a culture of impunity. This has resulted in perennial acts of violence during election cycles.
If the violence isn’t contained it could be a harbinger of things to come when Kenyans go to the polls in August. And while the recent conflict has been a wakeup call, it has not come as a surprise given Kenya’s history of election violence.
Since the return of multiparty politics, the country has repeatedly witnessed ethnic tension and violence around election time. Only the 2002 and 2013 polls stand out as being relatively peaceful.