Step up search for peace in Rift Valley, report says

It says the government and donors have largely neglected the intense peace-building efforts witnessed in the region between 2008 and 2013, saying the largely peaceful 2013 election had lulled various players into a state of complacency.

The government has been warned to do more to deepen reconciliation efforts in the Rift Valley and stop relying on a political alliance between ethnic elites to maintain peace in the region.

A new report by the International Crisis Group issued 10 years after the deadly post-election crisis in 2007 cautions that many of the underlying issues that triggered violence after that election have not been addressed.

The report, “Kenya’s Rift Valley: Old Wounds, Devolution’s New Anxieties”, cautions that “a transactional electoral pact is a fragile base upon which to build a lasting peace” and calls for more sustained efforts to promote reconciliation at the grassroots and address long-term grievances.

The report additionally warns that pitched competition for the position of governor in counties with multi-ethnic populations, including several in the Rift Valley, carries the risk of being marked by violence.

‘HEAL RIFTS’

“The government has failed to heal rifts created by multiple prior rounds of political bloodshed and violent land disputes,” the report, by the global conflict-prevention organisation, says. “While a major Kikuyu versus Kalenjin conflict is unlikely during elections scheduled for August 2017, serious local violence is possible, particularly as the creation of new counties run by powerful locally-elected officials has increased the stakes of political competition.”

The report calls for greater effort to be applied to limit potential violence. “To minimise the risk, the government and donors should do more to implement conflict-sensitive policing and revive the peacebuilding infrastructure that has largely been neglected since 2013.”

The Rift Valley witnessed the worst violence during the post-election crisis which claimed 1,133 lives and led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands.

The report says the roots of the violence are complex: “Although causes of the Rift Valley’s cyclical violence are diverse and its intensity varies area to area, virtually all conflicts are linked to land tenure and exacerbated by ethno-regionalist sentiments and politics. The perception that ‘outsiders’ have usurped indigenous communities’ ancestral land is the most potent perennial grievance politicians invoke to galvanise ethnic support bases, often with tragic consequences.”

NO ONE

The report notes that no one was held to account for killings in past rounds of election-related conflict from the late 1980s, a fact that has created a culture of impunity.

“The State lacks either ability or will to prosecute powerful, wealthy, politically-connected individuals. Successive governments have implemented few of the recommendations growing out of past inquiries into electoral and ethnic violence.”

The report acknowledges that the Jubilee alliance pact which brought together Kalenjin and Kikuyu leaders has helped to limit the threat of violence but says it has only yielded a “superficial calm” and the government should sustain the peace-building infrastructure implemented between 2008 and 2013.

The report calls on state agencies to do more to promote an enduring peace: “Seven of nineteen counties listed by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a state agency charged with coordinating peacebuilding efforts, among potential violence hotspots ahead of the 2017 elections are in the Rift Valley,” the report notes.

It adds: “Peacebuilding agencies established under the 2010 constitution, including the NCIC, will need to do more to identify people suspected of incitement, particularly ahead of county-level elections. They need to broaden existing efforts to record every major political rally, monitor hate speech and make sure relevant politicians know they are being watched.”

MORE ATTENTION

In the medium term, the International Crisis Group calls for more attention to be paid to tackling underlying causes of fighting. “The government and donors ought to revive the peacebuilding efforts that began after the 2007 crisis. This should include restoring support for local peace committees. Ultimately, addressing grievances over land, tackling disputes over boundaries in ethnically-mixed areas and engaging in a genuine reconciliation campaign to bridge the gulf of mistrust created by cycles of blood-letting will be required to achieve a sustainable peace.”

The fighting in the Rift Valley in 2007 and 2008 had an immense impact on the regional economy. Key highways to Uganda, Rwanda and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo were shut down sending the price of essential goods in those countries soaring.

The report warns that a future breakdown of the Jubilee alliance could be problematic.

It also says that counties need to be watched carefully because more politicians have witnessed the resources that governors command and there will be extremely heated contests in elections for the second batch of governors.

“Intra- and inter-ethnic competition for both resources and political representation is escalating in some counties, with the attendant risk of renewed local unrest and violence,” the report warns.

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