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Kenyans Take Precautions Against Potential Election Violence

NAIROBI — A civil society organization based in Kenya’s Rift Valley says there are signs violence could return to areas worst hit by ethnic violence after the disputed 2007 presidential election. As the country prepares for its fifth multi-party elections in March next year, some communities are starting to take precautions.

Kenyan youths and civil society groups gathered in Nairobi Tuesday at the start of a two-day conference to discuss ways to encourage fair and peaceful elections.

Caroline Ruto is the head of Smart Citizen, a civil society organization that works in the Rift Valley, one of the regions hardest-hit by the violence that followed the 2007 presidential poll. She on the sidelines of the conference that people in her area are starting to sell off their properties for fear that violence will return with the coming election.

“So what is happening now is that some communities are selling off their properties, leasing off their properties - not that there is tension but the wound are still deep so they feel their investment may not be secure," said Ruto.

She said her organization has also seen people moving away from towns for fear of attacks. “We see instances where we see people moving away from the towns so that the election can happen and maybe [they will] come back after the election; so the wounds have not really healed,” said Ruto.

Kenya erupted in riots and ethnic violence in early 2008 after both candidates claimed victory in the presidential run-off vote. At least 1,300 Kenyans were killed and more than a quarter of a million were uprooted from their homes.

Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan mediated the talks that ended the fighting and led to the formation of a coalition government headed by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

The coalition government was to implement reforms guiding the political process and the role of the police and the judiciary to avoid a return to violence.

But Justice of the High Court David Manjanja, speaking at Tuesday's conference, says the judiciary has failed Kenyans in matters regarding the election disputes.

“The history of the judiciary on elections has not been very good and I think it’s not a history I want to repeat because it’s an embarrassment," Manjanja said. "Sometimes the events of 2007 were largely as a result of institutional failure. Institutional failure because some people felt that the judiciary couldn’t be trusted to arbitrate over election disputes."

Majanja stressed the need for the judiciary to become more effective at delivering service to Kenyans and to ensure that justice is available to all.

Rights groups have said Kenya did not do enough to prosecute perpetrators of the post-election violence four-and-a-half years ago.

The International Criminal Court in the Hague has brought charges against two Kenyan politicians, a government official and a radio presenter accused of having a role in the violence.