Stakes very high in Kenya ballot, says Christian Aid

11 August 2017

REUTERS

Unrest: anti-riot police officers are deployed after protesters set tyres on fire in Mathare, in Nairobi, on Wednesday. There are fears of a resurgence of the sectarian violence of 2007, as Kenya awaits the results of the presidential election. Christian Aid says leaders have a  “unique role to play” in preventing violence

Unrest: anti-riot police officers are deployed after protesters set tyres on fire in Mathare, in Nairobi, on Wednesday. There are fears of a resurgenc...

RELIGIOUS leaders in Kenya are working to keep the peace as the country awaits the result of the presidential election, amid fears of a resurgence of the sectarian violence of 2007.

Early results pointed to victory for the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta. His opponent, Mr Odinga, who is running for a fourth time, said on Tuesday that that the Election Commission’s computer systems had been hacked, and dismissed the result as “fake”. The Commission has denied this.

Police have clashed with supporters of Mr Odinga and on Thursday there were reports that three protesters had been shot dead by police.

The Bishop of Mbeere, Dr Moses Masamba Nthukah, said on Thursday that the the National Church Council of Kenya and other faith groups had “appealed for peace and dialogue”.

“The stakes are very high,” Christian Aid’s Senior Humanitarian Adviser based in Nairobi, Mbaraka Fazal, said on Monday. “If the opposition don’t win this time, they may well become irrelevant; so they are especially keen to mobilise the electorate. At the same time, the current sitting government is not ready to give up its political position.”

After the election a decade ago, more than 1000 people were killed and 600,000 were displaced as ethnic violence flared. More than 30 women and children were burned to death in a church in which they had sought sanctuary (News, 4 January 2008). The Archbishop of Kenya at the time, the Most Revd Benjamin Nzimbi, called for a recount of the votes (News, 11 January 2008).

After the violence of 2007, the International Criminal Court charged President Kenyatta with instigating violence, but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Last month, the official in charge of the computerised voting system, Chris Msando, was found dead. The chairman of the Electoral Commission, Wafula Chebukati, said that there was “no doubt he was tortured and murdered”.

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Dr Nthukah said on Tuesday that there could be violence if the Commission “fail to conduct a free, fair, and credible election”. The opposition-party coalition, the National Super Alliance, and some civil-society organisations had both cast doubt on the process.

Religious leaders had a “unique role to play” in preventing violence, Ms Fazal said. The Church had learned lessons in the past decade. In 2007, it was “very aligned in terms of political parties and ethnic grouping. After that election, the Church realised how much she had compromised herself, and so many people suffered. The Church lost her voice in that period. Right now, the church groupings have reorganised themselves, and are promoting peace.” She referred to a World Vision study, conducted last month, which reported high levels of trust in the Church as a body that would mediate and work towards peace.

Christian Aid, she said, “was helping to facilitate dialogue between different factions, to encourage people to recognise others’ opinions, and see things from a different perspective from their own”. The charity is overseeing a project in Marsabit County, in the north of the country, which had been a hotspot for violence in the 2013 election (News, 8 March 2013). It has helped to set up local peace committees, whose members are selected by the community. Religious leaders are working with them to identify shared concerns. Christian Aid is also preparing to send emergency help should conflict arise.

Dr Nthukah said that the priority for the government must be to provide “a mechanism for healing and reconciliation, to bring the country together in order to create a peaceful environment for governance and development operations”, and “to reduce the inflation rate for food security and provision of basic needs”.

Ms Fazal said that she hoped that the government would prioritise economic regeneration, and the creation of employment and business opportunities, particularly for young people, of whom one in six was unemployed. “We also feel corruption would need to be tackled and food prices come down. . . Inequality is so high, and the poor seem to suffer the most.”

Her personal impression was that the Church was “not so strong” in speaking out against corruption. “The government has a way of throwing a wet blanket on corruption cases,” she said. “Evidence gets distorted; so nothing really comes to a conclusion. [There are] too many people in high places who are very influential; so they kind of silence the voice.”

In 2016, Transparency International ranked Kenya 145th out of 176 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index. It speaks of “widespread corruption that is evidenced in most sectors of public life, and has led to an apparent culture of impunity”.

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