16 July 2017

Kenya: Election Violence Fear Heightens As Security Agencies Pledge Peace

Photo: Jared Nyataya/Nation
Members of the public during a peace walk in Eldoret town, flagged off by Ainabkoi Deputy County Commissioner Nobert Komora, who called on youths not to be used to cause chaos during the electioneering period.

Eighteen tenants have moved from houses managed by Mr Simon Mwangi in Nairobi's Mathare area in the last two months, pointing to the apprehension people are having ahead of next month's polls.

Mr Mwangi, who manages about 70 rental houses spread across Mathare, Kariobangi, Kahawa West and Kasarani estates on behalf of their owners, observes that Mathare has witnessed the highest rate of migration so far.

The most affected areas of Mathare, he said, are Area Four and Kosovo.

Meanwhile, corporates have begun instructing their staff on how to stay prepared for any chaos that may come as a result of next month's election.

STOCK FOODSTUFFS

Most notable among those is Bamburi Cement Limited. In a communication recently issued to staff, the company's security department advises employees to stock dry foodstuffs and other basic items in case unrest ensues before or after the polls.

"Purchase at the beginning of July and store in a separate place from your weekly goods so that it is an effective reserve," the firm told its staff in a statement.

Bamburi's publicists, amid criticism on social media about the alarmist framing of the notice, said in a statement that it was "an advisory for internal use to enable our employees prepare and anticipate situations".

Elsewhere on the internet, there are at least three travel advisories warning citizens of Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom to be cautious of the August 8 date as there is a likelihood of violence.

TRIP ADVISOR

Due to that, there are a couple of discussions currently on-going on travel sites like Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet, where some would-be tourists are asking if it will be safe to visit Kenya in August.

The happenings are a manifestation of the mixture of fear and pessimism that have descended on a number of people, with the General Election date now less than a month away.

Memories of the 2007-2008 violence, which followed a botched election where incumbent Mwai Kibaki was seeking re-election the same way Mr Uhuru Kenyatta is running for his second term in office, seem to have thrown a blanket of precaution far and wide.

Mr Mwangi, the Nairobi-based property manager, said he recently asked one man why he had decided to relocate.

RELOCATE

"I asked someone why he had moved from Mathare to Mwiki. He said: "I gauged the situation and established that it wasn't good to continue staying there. Let me go where there are many of our people,'" he told the Nation.

Mr Mwangi noted that Kariobangi is also having the same issues albeit on a smaller scale.

"In Kariobangi, three houses have been vacated and there is no one who has come in yet," he said during an interview on Thursday.

The one area that appears popular with tenants at the moment, he said, is Kahawa West.

KAMITI PRISON

"You hardly hear there is a fight there. It is also because there are armed forces and Kamiti Prison in the vicinity. But in Mathare and Kariobangi, there have been lots of movements," said Mr Mwangi.

Mr Samuel Ndoro, another property agent in Nairobi's Kasarani area, says that one worrying trend has been that some home owners have been inquiring about a prospective tenant's tribe before deciding on whether to let them rent the houses or not.

"They won't mention when the person is there. But as an agent, I am usually told the truth. The house owners will say, "These people are a bother and when elections come, they can even refuse to pay rent,'" said Mr Ndoro, who has been an agent since 2013.

LIVE TOGETHER

Mr Josephat Nyambane, an agent in Nairobi's Umoja area, said he had also observed that tenants are choosing to live together with their fellow tribesmen in what he surmises is out of people desiring to have "strength in numbers."

Investments in real estate, said Mr Ndoro, have also been scaled down as investors speculate on the outcome.

"There is no much business because people have kept their money as they don't know what the outcome will be. I am one of them," he said.

"The same day after voting, I will be on a bus to Mombasa. August 9 morning will find me in Mombasa and I will wait for the outcome and follow the situation from there. If I feel it is okay, I will return to Nairobi. You cannot be too sure," he said.

CHAOS

Bamburi, a cement manufacturing company, advises its staff to avoid being out on particular hours on the election day so as to avoid being caught up in case of chaos.

"During the voting day, staff are advised to go in early in the morning or later in the evening, essentially to avoid the in-between period where large crowds could gather at polling stations after casting their votes," it says.

The framing of the notice is not far from advisories by foreign countries.

"Kenya's General Election is scheduled to take place on August 8, 2017. Political rallies and protests are expected up to, and possibly beyond, the General Election. Avoid political rallies and protests as they may quickly turn violent," says the Australian government on its "Smart Traveller" platform.

DEMONSTRATIONS

The US State Department tells its citizens: "Rallies, demonstrations, and protests may occur with little notice and even those intended to be peaceful can escalate into violence."

One resident of Ohio in the United States in January posted a message of apprehension on Trip Advisor that has elicited a number of comments.

"The last election in Kenya looked and was bloody and violent. We were just getting ready to put our deposit down on a safari," wrote the person.

He continued: "Then we learned through a friend about the Kenyan elections on August 8, 2017. We are not feeling safe and deeply sad about having to cancel this trip."

MIXED REACTIONS

By Saturday, many people had commented on the post, giving mixed reactions.

"A friend who lives in Kenya recommended my husband and son do not travel mid-August on an Intrepid trip to Maasai.

I wish the travel agent had thought about it as all booked and paid," wrote one user on June 19.

But another user, probably in Kenya, downplayed the alarm.

"Nothing is sure anywhere in the world at any time these days. Kenyans are really working hard to have peaceful elections," posted the user.

PEACEFUL

Kenyan security agencies have repeatedly said they will ensure the elections are peaceful.

Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet (above) last week said police officers will not take any sides while dealing with any flare-ups in the elections.

"We will be non-partisan in serving the people of this country, regardless of political persuasion. We shall also operate in strict conformity with the law," said Mr Boinnet on Wednesday, adding: "I can assure the country that the police and other security agencies are prepared for the elections."

HOTSPOTS

That assurance is the one that traders in Kisumu, one of the towns known to be hotspots in any election, are clinging on.

Mr Israel Agina, the chairman of the Kisumu Business Coalition, told the Nation that some are scared in the town but the general mood is fine.

"There are some people who are scared and they want to maintain minimum stocks. But we have been assured that there will be no form of violence in the coming elections," said Mr Agina.

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