The ongoing rumbling in the build up to August Kenyan Presidential and Parliamentary election is a sad reminder of the 2007 killings in the country’s Rift Valley. OMONU YAX-NELSON, JULIANA AGBO AND BLESSING BATURE.
The political development in Kenya will once again come under searchlight in August, when voters are expected to file out to the polls to elect the country’s President and 349 seats parliament, which is made up of 290 elected from the constituencies, 47 women elected from the counties and 12 nominated representatives.
In preparation for the polls, political parties in Kenya have been holding primaries to choose the candidates who will represent them in the general elections. However, the exercise has been marred by violence in some regions.
Party primaries notwithstanding, the August Presidential election is expected to be a direct contest between Raila Amolo Odinga of Orange Democratic Movement, ODM and the incumbent President, Jomo Kenyatta of the Jubilee Party.
The August election has rekindled old ‘bitter’ rivalry and has exacerbated tension in the mountainous East African giant, Kenya. Experts fear these developments are not strange, given Kenya’s history of electoral violence, and a sad reminder of the rift-valley experience of 2007 Presidential election, in which about 1,500 people were killed and over 600,000 reportedly displaced.
In the current contest, violence is said to be on the increase again. Cases of assassination and kidnapping of candidates are said to be on the rise. For example, Mr Chege, a candidate for the party primaries in the capital, Nairobi, who had been reported missing days earlier, was found in Narok town, west of the capital.
Another aspirant Isaac Mwaura alleged that his political rival had tried to assassinate him after an incident in which he says that gunshots were fired at his car: “A bullet has pierced my left ear and my car was sprayed with bullets,”
In another incident, armed men with machetes and whips are seen disrupting a nomination exercise in Migori County in western region. They are seen attacking party officials, accusing them of planning to rig the exercise.
They then chase them out of the compound of a local school where the exercise was taking place. Police later made 17 arrests and displayed the weapons they had confiscated.
So far at least two people have been reportedly killed nationwide following clashes between rival political groups and many more have been injured since the exercise kicked off on 13 April.
The party primaries, which ended on 30 April, are solely managed by political parties, which have struggled with the logistics of holding an election.
Faced with these challenges, the ruling Jubilee party was forced last Friday to cancel its nominations nationwide and ordered fresh elections.
The primaries of the main opposition party, ODM, have also been disrupted several times and in some cases party officials have declared more than one winner.
Perhaps more than anything else, according to Kenyan journalist Christine Mungai, the primaries have yet again exposed political parties’ lack of strong internal structures and ideology.
She says they are built around personalities and usually focus on ethnic mobilisation:
“The ethnic group is considered homogenous and there’s really no reason to elevate the debate beyond that,” she says.
“In most of these primaries, the organisation was so bad that the parties did not have a members’ register so that they allow anyone, as long as they have a national identity card, to vote for their candidate.
“Basically what that says is that I can tell your political conviction simply by your ethnic community.”
Competition for nominations has been particularly intense in parts of the country where the parties enjoy strongest support.
In such areas, the primary election is more important than the actual poll in August.
In 2010, Kenya passed a new constitution which created a devolved system of government and new political seats.
There are 47 counties, headed by governors, which operate as semi-independent regions with their own county assemblies.
Apart from the MPs and senator positions, there are a total of 1,450 members of the county assemblies (MCAs) – a position that has attracted 12,748 aspirants nationwide, according to media reports.
On average, MCAs’ basic salary is $2,400 (£1,800), without counting sitting allowances, foreign trips and other benefits. they take home in the region of ($4,800), 20 times the average income per capita, which stands at Kenya shillings 23,000 ($220).
She contends that this attraction to perks that come with the office is seen as a gateway to a better life. It is therefore a prize in some cases to be fought for and captured by any means possible.
The violence seen in the primaries has rekindled memories of the 2007 post-election violence, which left more than 1,000 people dead and about 600,000 displaced from their homes.
“I am not too worried about the national elections. The real action will likely be at the county level. There will most certainly be violence. But again, that will be more a reflection of what is at stake, rather than some descent into complete chaos and state failure.”
This is a view shared by Nic Cheeseman, professor of Democracy at the UK’s University of Birmingham and a columnist with Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper.
He says “disorderly primaries are a reason to be concerned, but that they may not lead to greater conflict come Election Day”.
He notes that the 2013 elections passed relatively peacefully.
Mr Chesseman says that the way to address the cut-throat competition in political parties is to give ownership to party supporters:
“In the longer-term, a key change will be the transition from parties that are funded by their leaders to parties that are funded by their supporters.
“When that starts to happen, the balance of power within parties will start to shift – but that is a long way off,” he says