As Kenya gears up for its general election in August, the safety of politicians is coming under scrutiny. But there is optimism that there will be no repeat of the violence that defined the 2007 elections.
The run-up to Kenyan elections, such as the August 9, 2022, general election, carries a certain sense of foreboding for aspiring politicians and their staff. Winning an election may be the goal, but facing threats, kidnappings, assault, and even death is not out of the question.
Recently, Kisii politician Thomas Okari was found dead with stab wounds at his home in Kisii County near Lake Victoria. In Mombasa, United Democratic Alliance member and local politician Ali Mwatsahu survived an attack when unknown gunmen sprayed his vehicle with bullets. Mwatsahu is running for member of parliament of Mvita.
According to political scientist Brian Wanyama Singoro of Kibabii University, even presidential candidates are not out of the woods, referring to a recent incident where rowdy youths stoned the helicopter of opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Kenya’s multiparty elections have historically not always gone smoothly. The 2007-2008 general election between incumbent Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga descended into chaos, ushering in one of the darkest chapters of the country’s political history since independence in 1963. The post-election violence claimed the lives of more than 1,300 people and displaced up to 600,000.
Human Rights Watch has also singled out Kenyan police as acting with impunity. The rights organization sees this as a cause for concern in the East African state, noting that security forces’ multiple cases of abuse, including killings, go unpunished.
Improved judicial independence
Wanyama also points to the state of Kenya’s courts as a reason for optimism.
“We have also seen the independence of the Supreme Court,” he said, citing the court’s opposition to President Kenyatta’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which was seen as a blow to the ruling elite. He argued that no group would sway the court, which has boosted ordinary Kenyans’ confidence.
“We hope that the court will do a good job, unlike in 2007 and those other years where the government easily manipulated the courts. Now things have changed, and everybody has to play ball.”
Still, Nairobi residents who live in informal settlements are already wary of the upcoming months. Many Kenyans leave the urban areas around election times. There is some tension; there is some panic before the elections. There might be some intimidation, so people have tried to go back to their ancestral land,” said a city resident. ( (DW)