Nairobi/Brussels — Preparations for elections in Kenya turn into high gear today as the parties in the three major coalitions nominate their candidates.
Kenya's 2013 Elections, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the run-up to the 4 March 2013 elections. The disputed polls in 2007 triggered horrible political violence, in which more than 1,000 died and hundreds of thousands were displaced, and tensions are especially high this time around. Competition for land and resources, youth unemployment and reliance on ethnicity are only a few on a long list of serious problems. Ethnic campaigning and horse-trading as alliances form have deepened divides./ /
"Conflict drivers underlying the 2007-2008 violence remain unresolved and may be cynically used by politicians to whip up support", says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group's Africa Program Deputy Director. "Attacks blamed on the extremist Al-Shabaab movement and clashes over land can cloak political violence. Police reform has lagged and the security forces look ill-prepared to secure the polls".
Forthcoming trials before the International Criminal Court (ICC) of four Kenyans for their alleged role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence look set to shape the campaign. While the cases aim to erode impunity long enjoyed by political elites and may deter bloodshed, they raise the stakes enormously.
A new constitution, a fresh election commission and a reformed judiciary should help reduce the risk of political violence. But the vote will still be a high-stakes competition for power, both nationally and in 47 new counties, each of which will elect a governor, senator and local assembly. Devolution, for all its benefits, introduces new conflict dynamics, as competition becomes fiercer between groups for power and local resources.
To prevent a spiralling deterioration of the current security situation, politicians must stop exploiting grievances and stoking divisions through ethnic campaigning. Religious leaders and civil society should demand a free and fair vote; so too should international partners, including Kenya's neighbours. They must make clear that those who jeopardise the stability of the country and region by using or inciting violence will be held accountable.
Voter education will be crucial for the first general election under the 2010 constitution, with new and complex rules. Limiting confusion and misunderstandings could help reduce conflict. Ensuring adequate security is also important to deal with election-related disputes, but police reform has lagged and the security forces look ill-prepared to secure the polls. These challenges are surmountable, given the remarkable determination of most to avoid a repeat of 2007-2008, but they require concerted action by Kenya's institutions and their supporters to ensure a credible outcome.
"The people deserve better", says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "To put the horror of five years ago behind them, Kenyans need the chance to vote without fear and elect leaders committed to reform and ready to serve society as a whole rather than the narrow interests of its elites".