The chairman of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has called on the government to step up efforts to reduce religious, political and ethnic tensions in the run up to next year’s election.
Mzalendo Kibunja said the murder of a radical Muslim cleric Monday in Mombasa could increase tensions and plunge the country into violence ahead of the vote.
“This is what [we] have been urging the government to do because if these incidents are not dealt with effectively, they may spill over to the elections in March,” said Kibunja.
His comments followed violent protests in Mombasa Monday after gunmen killed a Muslim cleric, Aboud Rogo Mohammed, said to support the Somali militant group, al-Shabab.
Police said at least two people were killed as protesters battled authorities, burned several churches and blocked off major streets in the port city. Witnesses say gunmen shot and killed the cleric as he drove a van carrying family members.
The killing and protests came as a national conference opened Monday in the capital, Nairobi, to address peaceful national elections. The conference was attended by President Mwai Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and members of the coalition government.
Experts have expressed concern that some past Kenya elections have led to violence. They called on the government to bring tensions down to prevent a repeat of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
"Every time we have elections for the last 20 years, then we kill ourselves and kill our economy,” Kibunja said. “And we have been asking and urging Kenyans to address the issues that incite them, that divide them so that the next year we can break this jinx.
“The Security agencies in this country need to help us where people are caught inciting, they are able to get arrested and arraigned in court very quickly and the judiciary also helping us in quickly dispensing justice,” he said.
Kibunja said the NCIC has recommended prosecution of any senior political figures who incites supporters to engage in violence.
Kibunja said his organization will soon launch an initiative that will help security agencies gather actionable intelligence to prevent violence.
“We have started a strategy that is known as the Uwiano [reconciliation] platform, which is really a conflict prevention and conflict mitigation strategy, where we want to bring in the police,” he said. “That strategy worked very well during the referendum campaigns in 2010, where we encouraged citizens to send SMS to a number free of charge to be able to give us this intelligence to get the police to act.”