Can Kenya Make Electoral Reforms Without Violence?

Since late April, Kenya’s opposition has staged weekly protests across the country against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), whose leadership has been fighting off credibility concerns for years.

At least three people allegedly have been shot dead by police in demonstrations and many others arrested or injured in clear cases of police brutality. Kenya’s police chief also claimed police were injured in scuffles with stone-throwing, tire-burning protesters.

Kenya held national elections peacefully in 2013, and the current situation is not ready to compare to the post-election violence that occurred from late 2007-2008, which claimed the lives of over 1,100 people.

However, in the midst of election-related protests, some politicians have not refrained from employing provocative tribal rhetoric (via The Star):

“[Opposition] chairman [John Mbadi] has accused President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee government of ‘killing’ Luos following the shooting of three protesters in Nyanza. John Mbadi said they will seek alternative methods to protect themselves if the killings by police continue…

[Mbadi stated,] ‘What we saw on Monday happening in Homa Bay, Kisumu, Siaya, and Migori mostly targeting the four counties inhabited by the members of the Luo community and even by extension Kibera slums, is a repeat of what we saw in 1969’…” 

On the other side of the political spectrum, some Kenya media sites reported Gatundu South member of parliament (MP) Moses Kuria, who previously has been arrested for hate speech, insisted that police should have killed more opposition protesters in a Facebook post.

However, there are multiple Facebook accounts purporting to represent the MP (none of them verified by Facebook) and at least one Kenyan official is skeptical about who actually posted the comments (via the Star):

“[National Cohesion and Integration Commission chairman] Francis Ole Kaparo said the commission will look into the matter…’We will investigate and if we find out that it is Kuria who posted the content, he will be apprehended…If it is not him, we will search for the person who posted the item and apprehend him or her.'”

So, these comments cannot necessarily be attributed to Kuria himself.  Nevertheless, these accounts are followed by tens of thousands of people, many of whom probably believe them to be genuine. These controversial comments are not happening in a vacuüm.

Kuria also recently implied tribal communities that do not support the administration in elections should not expect representation in the cabinet (via Nation):

“Forming a government is like cooking a meal. If you are not in the kitchen when we are preparing the meal, how then do you expect to eat at the table when the food is served? The best time for the community to join [Jubilee] is now, before we hold elections.”

Amid protest drama and provocative rhetoric — are politicians ignoring the potential inevitability that the election commission leadership will change? Recently, the government’s independent Human Rights Commission organized a forum in which IEBC leadership was pressured to resign from their positions (via Standard):

“[IEBC chairman Isaack] Hassan was told to his face that his team had to leave office before the 2017 polls. Civil organisations and political parties told commissioners of the [IEBC] that they had to leave office as the majority of Kenyans had lost confidence in them. Speakers during the launch of the Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu initiative attended by Hassan said the issue was not about the law, but the perception of the public on the commission’s ability to handle next year’s polls. The initiative was organised by the Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Kenyan MPs are also seriously thinking about reforming IEBC leadership. Two days after this week’s protests, some parliamentarians appeared to be moving in this direction (via Standard):

MPs are considering two options for an agreeable formula to pick electoral agency commissioners. In what appears to be an agreed position within the House that the current commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission will not handle the next General Election, the MPs are trying to hammer out a deal on the process of replacing the current commissioners.

The process to change IEBC leadership is fairly straight forward (via Nairobi Confidential):

Article 251 of the constitution, gives the basis for the removal of IEBC commissioners. If a commissioner violates the law, is physically or mentally incapacitated, incompetent or bankrupt. “A person desiring the removal of a member of a commission or of a holder of an independent office on any ground specified in clause (1) may present a petition to the National Assembly setting out the alleged facts constituting that ground.” The National Assembly should determine the merits of the petition and forward it to the President. The president’s role is to suspend the commissioners and appoint a tribunal to investigate the issues raised.

The key question is whether Kenyans can resolve electoral issues without further protest violence, police abuses, and provocative rhetoric that could increase political tensions.

Categories: Kenya

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