Let’s do all within our means to deliver peaceful elections
By Alinur Mohamed
As the nation goes to the polls in August next year, to elect a president and other political leaders, questions abound on whether our systems are ready and able to deliver peaceful elections.
It should not be lost on us that barely a decade ago we had a con- tested election outcome that ended in violence that claimed lives of more than 1,300 people and displaced over 500,000 others.
Though we have witnessed election violence every five- year poll cycle since the inception of multiparty democracy in 1992, the 2007/8 was unprecedented and will for long remain a stain in our collective conscience.
It is agreeable, as a nation, we have tried to move from that dark history, but it should not be lost on us we can easily drift back.
Despite subsequent institutional reforms and democracy gains, the current political atmosphere points to a tense election and the political system has its work cut out to ensure we have a peaceful, fair, credible and verifiable election. In this effort, there are various areas of concern.
One, devolution has not fixed all political problems, and in some cases, may serve to ignite pre-existing tensions. Politics remains a zero-sum contest and the new power of county leaders means a new framework for patronage and ethnic power gains.
Recent by-elections buttressed this new dynamic, as some were marred by chaos instigated by the new county leaders or their allies. These new tribal warlords in town must be checked.
Secondly, one of the key institutions that can guarantee or erode political stability in an election is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.
Set up as part of the post-2007/8 violence reforms, IEBC is mandated to provide independent and impartial oversight for elections. Undoubtedly, the agency itself faces numerous challenges. It has been tested in both courts of law and that of public opinion on several aspects and found wanting.
It has been accused of biases, lack of transparency and compromises, badly hurting its credibility. Itself casts doubts on its ability to handle a close or contested outcome, if its performance in the past two elections is anything to go by.
Issues bedevilling this institution need urgent fixing. Thirdly, as with all elections, there are basic realities that impact the campaigns.
The ongoing drought in East Africa has threatened food security in most part of Kenya, driving up food and commodity prices. Inter- national food organisations estimate 2.6 million people are facing crisis level of food insecurity and the UN estimates that nearly 40,000 Kenyans had been displaced due to drought by the end of July.
With below average rainfall in August, it is predicted the numbers will get higher as more households exhaust the resource reserves. As a result, basic survival has become a key issue in an election season.
This makes the voter even more vulnerable in the hands of the shrewd politician, yet there is widespread dissatisfaction with the government’s response to the drought threat.
What with the claims of corrupt politicians and business- men scheming to profit from the food shortage? In a nutshell, with a weak IEBC, shrewd politicians scheming to grab or retain power and a vulnerable gullible voter, democracy will be on real trial.
We could easily roll back the democratic credibility we have gained. There is a lot to lose if the said factors are not dealt with. With only less than a year to the elections, care should be taken to ensure we don’t slide back to the 2007/8 era.
Lastly, politicians should commit to hold peaceful campaigns without unnecessary physical or verbal at- tacks on their counterparts as well as shun hate speech and incitement.
Instead, they should clearly articulate the issues they seek to address and how they plan to change the life of the voter. They should further en- courage their supporters to maintain peace during and after the elections. Otherwise, they’ll tear apart a country we all have worked hard to build.
In ensuring peace, citizens also have a role — they should say no to politicians’ temptation to cause chaos. We must understand when the environment is hostile, we, the people, will suffer. Kenya is greater than any individual and we really need to work extra hard to save it from a possible collapse. — The writer is a Nairobi-based political commentator.