MOMBASA, KENYA— As Kenyans prepare for their March 4 national elections, they are paying special attention to preventing the post-election violence that rocked the country in 2007. Young people from the six counties comprising the Kenyan Coast province are working to promote peace and security during this election season.
In a sweltering meeting hall in Old Town Mombasa, more than 100 Muslim youths gathered Tuesday to discuss the Kenyan elections that are less than two weeks away. They represent various towns, villages, and rural areas along the Kenyan coast, but they all are united in their commitment to peaceful elections.
Jamila Wangari Thagui is an activist from Lamu county and is a member of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance, the group organizing this coast region accountability forum.
“So it’s good to have this meeting today to enlighten our people on how to participate on a peaceful election. And, also on how to maintain peace before and during elections, and after elections as one people of Coast,” said Thagui.
The alliance invited electoral commission workers, as well as provincial administration and security agents, to discuss election concerns with the attendees.
One of those participants was Bakary Annuary Abae, a fisherman from Tana River, an area of Kenya that has been rocked by its own violence in recent months. He said his biggest concern is whether or not government officials will be perpetuating election fraud.
“To my opinion, the government agents should not be partisans of any clique of intolerance. They should be neutral so that wherever there is a problem, they should be able to come out clean and identify those issues. But, if they become partisans of whatever, illicit behaviors, then we shall not reach anywhere,” said Abae.
As the program officer of the Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance, Aisha Ismail Adan said that political candidates were invited to the forum to express their intentions for free and fair elections. Adan believes that conceding defeat goes a long way toward preventing violence, so she asked the aspirants to publicly state that they would do so if they did not win.
“You know, if you say they are going to concede defeat, that means they are going to concede defeat and when they say that loudly, clearly to their supporters, and I mean, if something happens and they just don’t win in this election, and they’ve committed themselves that they are going to concede defeat, that is what we expect out [of this forum]," said Adan. "Because what we believe is that politicians are the inciters of violence in this region. So, we thought it wise for them to come out clearly, tell people that we should observe peace and peace should prevail in this region.”
Calming youthful minds
Amina Hussein Soud is the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Elections coordinator for the southwest coastal region. She said she is trying to change the attitudes of the youths, who usually are the most susceptible to committing violence.
“As the youth, they’ve always been used for bad things. So we are trying to tell them that what you’ve been doing is wrong and change of attitude. Change of attitude has to get some psychological support, when you see you have changed and others around you have changed, especially with the peers, and the youth," said Soud. "They like things that are in fashion. When they see that everyone is on that fashion of being peaceful, then maybe that will change their attitude on the negative side. And, now they will come to the positive side and use their energies for better things.”
Above all, Soud said that she is encouraging young people to remain calm during the elections.
“What I’m urging them is, come out in numbers, do your voting, after that go home and relax and wait for the results, instead of going out and looking for challenges and making noise and what have you,” she said.
The Kenya Muslim Youth Alliance has more than 1,000 members around the country. More than 200 community-based organizations are affiliated with the alliance.