Kenya is a young country but the association of elections and violence has already been established and is, seemingly, set in stone. However, the horrors and brutality of the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence changed the nation, and on the eve of our next elections we have the chance to decide that the change was for the better   By Cyrus Mosoti

Kenyans joyfully celebrate the end of Moi's presidency after the 2002 election.

“Vote fraud accusations mar Kenyan elections”

“Opposition leaders, incumbent president cry foul during day 2 of Kenyan election”

“Kenya: Election Battle begins”

“Kenyan Election Violence Expands”

Pulled from international news sources, those headlines tell the story of Kenya’s elections since the multi-party system was re-introduced in 1992, yet you’d be forgiven for thinking they were all from the infamous 2007/2008 Post Election Violence.

The truth is, in the last 20 years the Kenyan elections have, with varying degrees of intensity, followed a predictable and tragic pattern every single time, begging the question – why do we allow this to happen?

AB is an anonymous Kenyan, and one who can attest to the destruction that accompanies voting. The 46-year-old woman is designated in the Waki Report, which was compiled by the Commission of Inquiry on Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) after the 2007/2008 violence, though her story goes further back. She first encountered election violence in 1992 while living in Kipkaren, not too far from Eldoret. A businesswoman, married with nine children, her home and all her possessions were burnt and she lost everything.

Similar clashes took place in the 1997 and 2002 elections. After restoring her life best as she could, AB suffered again in the 2002 election violence, which left her with a burnt breast and hand. In 2007, she and her family were assaulted again. She was raped, beaten and burnt with food that she was cooking. In an effort to flee the chaos the next day, AB lost one of her children.

The severe nature and prevalence of the violence following our last elections was certainly a wakeup call for Kenya, but as we head to the polls in 2013 there is still a need to understand where it came from. Reflection, as much as reforms, is a powerful tool and a necessary one to make sure that the same atrocities are not repeated.

The Cause of the Violence

What has been the cause of election violence in Kenya? According to Justice Phillip Waki – who was part of CIPEV – lack of land, police, needed judicial and electoral reforms as well as historical injustices make up the reasons for these happenings. Unfulfilled promises by political leaders over the years have also led to build up anger and frustration.

A Luo man sits in a destroyed car with a burning tyre on the roof in Kisumu on Jan 29, 2008.

As early as 1969, six years after independence, the main opposition party was banned from elections by Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, making Kenya a de facto single party state. Kenya’s second president, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, would make it official in 1982. Months later, one of the earliest links of violence to political power occurred during a failed coup. In addition to the fighting between factions, looting was rampant and many businesses were destroyed, particularly Asian premises. The aftermath saw two Asian women commit suicide after being raped and many Asian families relocated abroad, while those who remained often leave the country in times of political instability, such as elections.

In 1992, due to increased international pressure, the president reinstated multi-party elections though he highly opposed the move, arguing that it would lead to ethnic violence. Soon after the 1992 elections, accusations of fraud were made and violence erupted in the Rift Valley, whereby Kalenjins – the president’s ethnic group – armed with bows and arrows, assailed Luos, Luhyas and Kikuyus in the region. The violence in 1992 resulted in 1,500 dead Kenyans and 300,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

It was later discovered, however, that members of the reigning government had not only acquired and dispensed the weapons used in the clashes, but they had instigated them.

“Divide and Rule,” a report compiled by the Human Rights Watch, indicated that the former president was “indulging in a self-fulfilling prophecy.” The report also established that the violence was not impulsive; rather it had been cleverly devised “by individuals close to the president.”

The 1997 elections went much the same – former president Moi winning with the opposition declaring rampant fraud and accusing the Kenyan Electoral Commission (KEC) of not sending enough ballots to their strongholds. On the first day of voting, an anonymous diplomat advised The New York Times, ‘’the question now is how many people are going to scream, and how loudly and what else will they do?’’ There was less violence, but elections still resulted in death, injury and destruction.

In 2002, there was violence leading up to the elections but little dispute of the results – Moi was finally out and a coalition of different tribal factions, led by Mwai Kibaki, beat his party with a campaign built on ending corruption. With the government turnover, Kenyans were ecstatic, some even excitedly telling the BBC that they would never have to pay bribes to traffic police again.

However, enthusiasm waned with the announcement of Kibaki’s cabinet, which, according to some in the coalition, disregarded previous power sharing agreements. One year in, there were rumblings of dissatisfaction around the country as many of the sweeping changes hadn’t happened, and a referendum on a new constitution in 2005, which Kibaki supported, was soundly defeated.

While Kibaki maintained a loyal following, the doubt about his first term performance gave his competition an edge, and as Kenyan politics are wont to do, the sides lined up by tribal allegiance in the lead up to the 2007 election.

The horrors witnessed in Nairobi, Rift Valley, Naivasha, Eldoret and Kisumu, among other parts of the country, have been referred to as the nastiest calamity in Kenya’s history against human rights. Whether it was the lack of cohesion between the commission or an ulterior motive that was already in play by political powerhouses, 1,133 Kenyans died while 600,000 were stripped of their livelihood, property and homes, in the debacle that ensued.

The Evolution of a Gruesome Tragedy

Media in Kenya has exploded in the last decade or so. Radio stations are widespread, numbering more than 100, a large fraction of which are aired in different tribal dialects. Additionally, a good number of these radio stations are owned by politicians. This is equally true when it comes to the local TV stations and print media. As such, much of the media’s role, especially during the campaign season up to elections, is to promote specified political parties and figures, and the run up to 2007’s election was no different.

Kenyans were ecstatic, some even excitedly telling the BBC that they would never have to pay bribes to traffic police again.

Voting began on Dec. 27, 2007, in a tribally charged and already suspicious environment. The following day, presidential candidate Raila Odinga held the lead and his party declared him the winner on Dec. 29 when 180 out of 210 constituencies had been counted. However, on Dec. 30 the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) chaired by Samuel Kivuitu, which had delayed announcing the results, declared Kibaki to be the winner. To exacerbate matters, the ECK even admitted that some clerks were doctoring the results. Kivuitu would, four years later, reveal in an interview that he was never in full control of the commission to begin with, considering he was never the one who appointed most of his subordinates, something he disapproved of from the very beginning.

That same day, Odinga declared himself the winner and demanded a recount. The indistinct circumstances surrounding the election process, count and announcement of the winner left the nation in uncertainty, and in that atmosphere tribal duty and insecurities provided the spark that lit Kenya afire.

Politicians had been riling up the masses, especially in the Rift Valley where there was already a feeling and belief among some tribes that they had been exiled from their rightful land. People invested in the opposition fanned these insecurities by telling locals to weed out those they perceived to be outsiders or enemies, namely Kikuyus.

Across the country, ethnic violence spread with different tribes targeting each other and retaliating. In addition to Kikuyus in the Rift Valley; Luos were targeted in Central province, while in Nairobi the violence was outspread among the Kisiis, Kalenjins, Kikuyus and Luos.

In one of the most sadistic incidents, a church where hundreds of residents in Eldoret were hiding was burnt down by angry youth, killing 50 men, women and children. “It’s not our custom to kill women and children. We told them to come out of the church, but they locked the door and refused to come out. So we burned them,” says an offender quoted in The Guardian.

Grace Githuthwa was in the church with her children when the fire was started. She managed to jostle her two older children out through a window. Clutching her 3-year-old daughter, Miriam, Githuthwa had just made it out of the burning church herself when “they snatched Miriam from me and threw her back into the fire.” Targeted tribes soon retaliated and the violence intensified.

John Otieno is a teacher and an IDP in Nairobi, where he fled after the violence erupted. “I had been a teacher in the area [Nakuru] for more than three years and had not seen any form of bad blood between Kikuyus and Luos or Kalenjins. But that Sunday marked a turn of events. I was chased like a thief,” recounts Otieno. The election chaos reached Naivasha mid-January 2008 when a group of organised youth arrived and targeted specific individuals.

Otieno relates how he and his friends were held hostage for hours in one part of Nakuru town as police, who were overwhelmed by the marauding youths, tried to get a handle of the situation. After being beaten up and robbed of his valuables, Otieno finally managed to sneak out and dash to the main Nakuru-Nairobi highway where he jumped into a matatu. “In the matatu I sat in the rear seat alone...I was bleeding and no one was talking to me. But the driver was a good man because he saved me more than three times at various illegal roadblocks that had been erected on the road by gangs who were looking for Kalenjins and Luos.”

“But at the clinic, there was more trouble because nurses there refused to attend to me because of my tribe”

The Nairobi matatu terminal at the Nyamakima area was, however, as far as the driver could bring Otieno. He would not take him to the hospital because of the risks involved. Luckily, Otieno knew a journalist at The Standard Newspaper. “I gave his contact and [he] was called. He arrived in a company car, which took me to a City Council clinic."

"But at the clinic, there was more trouble because nurses there refused to attend to me because of my tribe. They however attended to me after learning the people who took me there were journalists.”

Otieno now teaches in Nairobi and cannot go back to Naivasha even with his property still there. He says he saw many people being butchered alive by the youths who seemed to have been ferried there on a mission. The attacks left an entire family wiped out in the area and at least 30 others dead. These incidents took place in different parts of the country and initially they were mostly unplanned occurrences, though as disputed presidential results came to a conclusion, the violence became more structured and vengeful.

Maasai in the Olmelil Valley, Transmara District, charge up a hill to battle local Kalenjin with bows and arrows on March 1, 2008.

Just as suddenly as Kenyans turned against one another, organised gangs started emerging and brutally attacked people they perceived to be enemies – raping, robbing and even killing. Mungiki, a criminal Kikuyu gang that has been linked to the heinous crimes mentioned including extortion and threats to life, was used to execute people in Naivasha and displace many others, according to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, along with Eldoret North MP William Ruto, former head of public service Francis Muthaura and radio journalist Joshua Sang now face charges at the ICC at The Hague in connection with the post election violence.

The Mathare slum is one of the informal settlement areas that suffered greatly in the savagery.

Makarius Njoroge, a resident of the shantytown, says they formed a group to protect their areas after attacks on them persisted. “We had to come together and form an organised group with one team manning the area in shifts. We had no option because police were nowhere to be seen,” says Njoroge, a father of three. He was the head of Mungiki in the slum and he watched in horror as three of his neighbours were slashed to death in retaliatory attacks. This prompted them to form the gang, which fizzled out after the violence ended.

In addition to the gangs, other culprits behind the assaults included the General Service Unit (GSU), regular and administrative police as well as other security agents dispatched to quell the violence. While gangs were more concerned about inflicting pain through battery and torture, security personnel took advantage of people seeking their protection, especially women and young girls. They are alleged to have raped and robbed women in parts of Mathare and Kibera, leaving them emotionally devastated.

While the country imploded and many were in a daily struggle for life and property, the violence drew international attention. With the pressure and assistance of figures like ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, Kenya’s political leaders were able to come to a power sharing agreement on Feb. 28, 2008. And while the violence quieted, few, if any, have recovered from the suffering experienced during the terrible period and hundreds of thousands remain in IDP camps across the country.

Internally Displaced Persons

Approximately 157 families have been settled at Kisima Farm in Njoro after they were displaced from their original homes in the Rift Valley. The houses they live in have been built by the government. The families live on a sizeable piece of land that has been sub divided into small pieces. Each of them has his or her pit latrine. The house has an inbuilt kitchen and two bedrooms. Those living there eke out a living as casual workers at nearby farms and homesteads and there are fears that crime may increase as time goes by. These are the lucky IDPs, who have been resettled.

“Can you imagine a situation where [I] have to share a tent with my husband, 17-year-old daughter and other members of my family? It is really torturing,” said a frustrated Jessica Mumbi, an IDP in Naivasha. It is not only that she has to share the tent; it also has to do with the conditions they have to withstand. Shortage of food, lack of medical supplies, leaking tent roofs and flooded tents when the rain falls make these camps a torment to live in.

In April 2008, Operation Rudi Nyumbani (return home) was devised to embolden IDPs to return home. Over 200,000 IDPs returned home by July of 2008, according to government reports and as of December 2012, there were plans to resettle more than 10,000 other displaced persons, but that has not yet materialised.

In separate interviews the Minister of Lands James Orengo and Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi indicated that the Government was facing challenges in trying to resettle groups because some of them had been reluctant to take up available land. They further indicated that politicians had been inciting IDPs to demand resettlement without knowledge of the processes of acquiring land, which are long and difficult. “These IDPs need social amenities wherever they will settle and it is the responsibility of the Government to construct them. The process involves so many ministries, which makes it cumbersome to do once and for all,” said Orengo. Added Murugi, “We face many challenges in trying to resettle them because they are politically incited but we hope there will be a solution.”

Foreign Investments Dwindle

The tourism and export industries, especially the flower industry with farms based in Naivasha, were hit hard and ran high deficits during the skirmishes. Jan Irungu, an exporter based in Naivasha, says that they incurred losses amounting to millions of shillings and hopes no such incident will happen in the future. “...Our organisation, Kenya Flower Council, was pleading with security agencies and other stakeholders to ensure smooth movement of the products from their production point to the airport and their destination. It was very paining and unbelievable,” expressed Irungu.

Many workers on flower farms were displaced leaving the farms with a shortage of employees and ultimately, a 38 percent export reduction. Piles of the flowers went neglected at various collection points, including the airport, when various international airlines refused to pick them.

Travel advisories to Kenya were issued in the US, Canada, Europe and other parts of the world, plummeting a KSH 17.5 billion industry in the first four months of 2007 to KSH 8 billion in the first four months of 2008, a 54 percent drop. By December 2008, the economic growth rate of the country was at a record low of 0 percent.

Locally, business suffered to the tunes of millions of shillings and many business owners watched as their establishments went up in flames. The Kenya Railways Corporation, which has a railway line running from Mombasa to Uganda, saw part of the tracks in Kibera dismantled. This forced suspension of goods travel to the neighbouring country.

Many foreign investors relocated following the election calamity, but over the last five years, growth, to some degree, has returned. However, the coming elections have new fears setting in, making changes all the more important.


The extreme brutality of the 2007/2008 violence could not be ignored. And while they cannot be considered sweeping, important reforms – both in policy and mentality – have taken place.


Kenyans queue for their chance to vote in the 2002 elections.

Francis Kimemia, Head of Civil Service, points out that a number of government initiatives are in place and aim to prevent or minimise the extent and impact of internal displacement. He further cited the establishment of the National Integration and Cohesion Commission as part of the strategies to guard against hate speech and incitement and declared that institutions mentioned as the cause of violence and displacement – the police, land commission and judiciary – have been reformed. “We are now mature and I believe we will not experience any such form of violence,” he insists.

The violence also led to separate commissions being set up to investigate the conduct of elections and the aggression that is so often linked to voting periods, but the government has been slow to act on their recommendations. The commissions include that of Judge Johann Kriegler, which investigated the conduct of the defunct ECK in relation to the general election and the one led by Justice Philip Waki that looked into Post Election Violence. The Kriegler team gave birth to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission that is managing the impending elections while the Waki one led to the ICC charges.

To enable the media to play an effective and accountable role, the Kenya Editors Guild has put mechanisms into place to ensure that no inciting messages are published or aired.

In addition, specific media houses have come up with measures to ensure fair coverage. “We cannot allow any form of poor journalism to be exhibited as it has been in the past and that is why we have these measures,” cites David Ohito, digital editor at The Standard Media Group. “Enactment of the Media Council is also a step towards ensuring [a] safe environment,” he continues.

And while media owners vowed to put an end to airing hate speech, some vernacular radio stations continue to fan the flames, disregarding the laws that have been put in place to curb this kind of programming. Social media remains one of the most highly used platforms to express tribal vitriol. With access to the Internet on the phone, tablets and computers, millions of Kenyans share political opinions constantly. The media at large is yet to take strong measures to curb possible violence that may occur out of their reporting. Nonetheless, some media houses have reaffirmed they have published guidelines that will be used especially in broadcasting adverts from political parties.

“We are now mature and I believe we will not experience any such form of violence”

Contrariwise, media has also been strongly used to shed light on the evils of post-election violence. Award winning photojournalist and youngest recipient of the Prince Claus laureate’s award, Boniface Mwangi was working for The Standard Newspaper at the height of the violence. Through graphic, gruesome images and film, Mwangi was able to shake Kenyan nationals to reality and give the world insight into the horrors that were taking place in the country. What he captured in pictures and film has had a resounding impact not only in Kenya but globally.

Yet as the country stares down the barrel of another election, there are flutterings of anxiety about whether or not these changes have been enough.

Problems in the Run Up

In a rather foreseeable outcome, a number of IDPs have refused to take part in the upcoming polls, alluding to the fact that they are still in camps and some of the leaders who they feel contributed to their misery are vying for governmental positions. Christine Ndinda, an IDP based at Jikaze Camp in Naivasha, argued there was no need for them to register and participate in an exercise that led to where they are now. “Many of them [IDPs] are still fearing that the elections may be chaotic, hence their reluctance to even register as voters,” Ndinda expounded.

The month of August 2012 started out very badly for residents in Tana River and Isiolo. In two separate events, inhabitants of Tana River District in the Coast province and Isiolo located in the North Eastern Province, suffered massive losses as a result of clashes amongst feuding villagers, leaving 52 and 17 people dead respectively. “It starts from such incidents...and boils to a major problem,” says Mwangi sombrely. While the Tana River skirmishes have been blamed on disagreements between agrarian Pokomo and the Orma pastoralists, it is concerning that these scuffles are occurring close to election time.

In January, this year, High Court Judge Grace Nzioka and her husband were abducted from their home after being robbed of some of their possessions and money. The high court judge is head of the Tana River investigating commission and among the stolen items were documents and her laptop. This happened two days before the judge was to formally submit the commission’s findings on the clashes, thus intensifying any speculation that the violence could be politically motivated.

Tana River clashes have so far led to the deaths of close to 200 people and the displacement of 34,000, said Garsen MP Danson Mungatana. Many are now living in provisional camps set up in Mpeketoni, Dide Waride and Witu, while others are in hibernation in nearby forests.

Besides the Tana River and Isiolo conflicts, Baringo, Samburu, Turkana and parts of Nairobi, particularly slum areas, have had episodes of violence. Currently, there are approximately 118,000 newly displaced persons as a result of inter-communal divergences and inadequate resources, linked to a combination of ethnic, political and economic aspects.

Not Taking Chances

Plans are being put in place for any unforeseen events by the humanitarian community for extensive displacements that may be associated with the March 2013 general election. Donor countries – Germany, UK, USA, Canada, Sweden and Holland – and international organisations have supported and monitored the peace process that successfully brought the 2007/2008 violence to an end and led to the establishment of a coalition government. They have been pushing for reforms at all levels.

Asian nations – China, India and Japan – that have investments in communication and infrastructure avenues are yet to come out and state their feelings on the preparedness of the elections. Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Liu Guangyuan states that as much as they do not like to meddle in domestic matters of a foreign country, they have hopes that Kenya will conduct peaceful elections. “The preparations that various agencies charged with the polls have made are impressive and we have hopes of good elections. We will continue to support Kenya,” he said.

As things stand however, foreign and local investments are on shaky ground after the US, Switzerland, UK and France warned that Kenya would face dire consequences if those charged at the ICC are elected. This not only poses a threat to the country’s economy but its relations with neighbouring and international allies. It’s pertinent to say that this election not only brings Kenya her fourth president but it stands to be one that could greatly impact an almost 50-year-old country’s evolution.

The Future of Kenya and Her People

“The fight has to continue because Kenya is our home and we cannot leave it to those out to ruin it in many ways,” says Mwangi adamantly. Tribalism and ethnic divide have been used as vices time and again during election periods, forcing Kenyans to choose between tribe and humanity, a choice that has resulted in thousands of deaths since multi-party elections were re-introduced. Nonetheless, there are undertones of hope amidst the uncertainty of what this year’s election outcome will be.

One thing that resonates nationwide is the need for peace. There cannot be a repeat of what happened in 2007 and 2008. While the two leading coalition parties – Jubilee and CORD – have everyone speculating who Kenya’s fourth president will be, this time round there is no clear cut answer who will emerge at the top. With presidential runners Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Peter Kenneth, Musalia Mudavadi, Martha Karua, Prof. James Ole Kiyiapi, Paul Muite and Mohammed Dida, all vying for the head position, this election could very well mark Kenya’s defining moment in history.

A few major aspects certainly stand to break with tradition. First of all, Kenya’s middle class has grown – in size and boldness – and has lately propelled the economy and, to some degree, changed the language of the country. Also, Kenya’s youth are disenchanted with the politics of their parents – more and more often, they are voicing their opinions and demonstrating, but for an end to corruption and violence rather than for a party or candidate. Slum dwellers have been in a position of disregard far too long, being handed promises that do not come to fruition. It is unfortunate that political leaders have used this marginalised group time and again to tear the nation apart with no regard for their continued existence or livelihood. And though some of the old tricks – handing out money at election campaigns and making empty pledges – are still being practised, with a bit of luck, the middle class may well get through to them, via social media, peace campaigns and cordial debates.

“I want Kenya to be better; I want Kenya to be developed. Kenya can be different and it’s all about leadership, so it’s upon us to change those things because if we don’t change those things, 20, 30 years from now, our kids will be fighting our battles…so we need to do it now,” points out Mwangi, a sentiment that resonates with multitudes of Kenyans.

One thing is certain, however. Whatever the outcome of these elections, they will be historic. This is Kenya’s time to step up and ensure that we support an election where violence and fraud are finally put aside. Where the notion of one person, one vote truly comes to fruition. The alternative is unfathomable.