Populations at Risk Serious Concern


There are growing concerns regarding the potential for a recurrence of widespread violence in Kenya as the country prepares for the August 2017 general election.
On 8 August 2017 Kenyans will vote in the general election, including voting for the President. While the previous election in 2013 was relatively peaceful, increased ethnic and political tensions leave populations at risk of a potential recurrence of mass atrocity crimes.

As the general election approaches, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has identified 20 counties as potential hotspots for protests and riots, ethnic clashes, terrorist attacks, and land and resource based conflicts. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has also noted that, "insensitive and sensational reporting" by some radio stations and social media is exacerbating tensions.

Jubilee's candidate, the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, is generally seen as representing the interests of the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities while his main opponent, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA), has strong support amongst ethnic Luos and other smaller ethnic groups. Some politicians from major parties have been accused of deliberately heightening ethnic rivalries ahead of the August election.

The government has taken a number of steps to prevent potential violence during the election, including by mobilizing 150,000 police officers and establishing a multi-agency command center. Local governors and county commissioners have publicly condemned hate speech, while security officials in several counties have launched investigations into recent reports of leaflets inciting violence between ethnic groups.

In addition to concerns about political and inter-ethnic violence during the election, attacks by the extremist armed group al-Shabaab have also increased along the Kenya-Somalia border and may discourage voter participation in some areas.

The post-election violence in 2007-2008 that left 1,133 Kenyans dead and over 663,000 displaced, led to state-wide structural reforms to avoid a recurrence of violence during future elections. While the 2013 elections were generally peaceful, the government has relied upon a Kikuyu-Kalenjin political alliance and has been unable to overcome the root causes of some inter-ethnic disputes. The government has also fundamentally failed to hold perpetrators of past mass atrocity crimes accountable.

Despite the government deploying additional police to potential hotspots, security forces sometimes still lack the capacity to actively deter and disrupt threats and mediate inter-communal tensions. The proliferation of arms in Kenya also increases the risk of violence. In 2016 Kenya's National Security Council warned that more than half a million illegal weapons were circulating in the country.

The government needs to take further steps to actively uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Kenyans during the election period.

On 23 January 2012 the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed charges of crimes against humanity against current President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, who allegedly bore the greatest responsibility for instigating ethnic violence in the aftermath of the 2007 election. However, on 5 December 2014 the ICC dropped these charges after the Kenyan government refused to cooperate and due to allegations of witness intimidation.

At the invitation of Kenya, the European Union has deployed an Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to monitor the 2017 general election. On 3 July the Chief Observer of the EU EOM warned of the rising threat of possible violence. On 5 July the African Union (AU) announced the deployment of an Africa-led Election Observation Mission. UN Volunteers will also collaborate with a team of more than 200 peace and cohesion monitors across Kenya.

NECESSARY ACTION: The government should further enhance preventive efforts in advance of the election, including public messaging and the monitoring of hate speech. The government should address protection and intelligence gaps, including increased resourcing for the security forces in volatile areas, particularly in Nyanza, Rift Valley and Nairobi provinces.

The AU and UN need to continue to assist the Kenyan government in both proximate and long-term efforts aimed at strengthening the rule of law, building inter-communal dialogue, and ending the mobilization and manipulation of ethnic identity for political purposes.

Last Updated: 17 July 2017