Populations at Risk
There remains a serious concern regarding the potential for a recurrence of widespread violence in Kenya in the aftermath of the August 2017 general election.
On 8 August 2017 Kenyans voted in the general election, including voting for the President and county governors. While the previous election in 2013 was relatively peaceful, increased ethnic and political tensions have left populations at risk of a potential recurrence of mass atrocity crimes. The presidential election was characterized by a close race between Jubilee's candidate, the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, and his main opponent, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA).
Initial voting results posted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) online indicated that President Kenyatta was leading with around 54 percent of the vote the morning after the election. Despite the IEBC, as well as international observers from the EU and AU, declaring that there were no significant irregularities in the voting, on 9 August Odinga publicly claimed that the results had been hacked. Many opposition supporters responded by protesting in the streets and barricading major roads in several cities. Police have reportedly used live rounds and tear gas to disperse crowds.
On 11 August the IEBC formally declared Kenyatta had won the election, prompting protests and sporadic clashes between supporters of Jubilee and NASA. Violence continued in some cities on 13 August after Odinga called for a general strike on 14 August to protest the results. NASA supporters have clashed with police in several cities since 9 August, resulting in the death of at least 24 people according to the Kenya National Commission for Human Rights.
Prior to the general election, the IEBC identified 20 counties as potential hotspots for protests and riots, ethnic clashes, terrorist attacks, and land and resource based conflicts. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) also noted that, "insensitive and sensational reporting" by some radio stations and social media was exacerbating tensions. Some politicians from major parties were accused of deliberately heightening ethnic rivalries ahead of the election. One week prior to the elections an IT officer from the IEBC was murdered in Nairobi, raising fears of irregularities during voting.
In addition to concerns about election-related violence, attacks by the extremist armed group al-Shabaab have also increased along the Kenya-Somalia border and may have discouraged voter participation in some areas. Beginning in July, eastern counties were placed under curfew after a series of attacks by al-Shabaab.
Post-election violence in 2007-2008 left 1,133 Kenyans dead and over 663,000 displaced, but led to state wide structural reforms to avoid a recurrence of violence during future elections. While the 2013 elections were generally peaceful, the government has relied upon a Kikuyu-Kalenjin political alliance and has been unable to overcome the root causes of some inter-ethnic disputes. The government has also fundamentally failed to hold perpetrators of past mass atrocity crimes accountable.
Despite the government deploying additional police to potential trouble spots, security forces sometimes still lack the capacity to actively deter and disrupt threats or mediate inter-communal tensions. The proliferation of arms in Kenya also increases the risk of violence. In 2016 Kenya's National Security Council warned that more than half a million illegal weapons were circulating in the country.
The government needs to continue actively upholding its Responsibility to Protect all Kenyans.
On 23 January 2012 the International Criminal Court (ICC) confirmed charges of crimes against humanity against President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, who allegedly bore the greatest responsibility for instigating ethnic violence in the aftermath of the 2007 election. However, on 5 December 2014 the ICC dropped these charges after the Kenyan government refused to cooperate and due to allegations of witness intimidation.
At the invitation of Kenya, the European Union has deployed an Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to monitor the 2017 general election. On 5 July the African Union (AU) announced the deployment of an Africa-led Election Observation Mission. UN Volunteers also collaborated with a team of more than 200 peace and cohesion monitors across Kenya.
On 15 August the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, commended the minimal election violence and called upon leaders to take measures to calm the political environment.
The government should closely monitor and quickly confront any incitement to violence or potential inter-ethnic conflict. The government should encourage security forces to exercise maximum restraint regarding the use of deadly force while responding to peaceful protests.
Disputed election results should be formally contested through appropriate legal channels in Kenya's courts.
The AU and UN need to continue to assist the Kenyan government in both proximate and long-term efforts aimed at strengthening the rule of law, building inter-communal dialogue, and ending the mobilization and manipulation of ethnic identity for political purposes.
Last Updated: 15 August 2017