US group warns of threats to peaceful elections in Kenya

A think tank affiliated with the US Defence Department has warned that the weakness of national and international institutions could fuel election-related violence in Kenya.

“A perception of impunity hangs over the election process,” states an analysis published on Monday by the Pentagon’s Africa Centre for Strategic Studies.

Indictments issued by the International Criminal Court prior to the 2013 election “served as a clear warning to all candidates, tempering language that some could consider hate speech,” writes Prof Dorina Bekoe, author of the Africa Centre’s study.

In 2017, she adds, no such international watchdog exists due to the unraveling of the ICC cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto.

WAR ON JUDICIARY

Prof Bekoe acknowledges that the judiciary has taken a number of serious steps towards reforms.

However, she cautions: “Claims by the ruling coalition that the judiciary has not acted independently raises concerns about whether the courts could serve as an avenue to redress electoral grievances.”

National Super Alliance (Nasa)’s questioning of the political motives of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) also fosters uncertainty over potential reactions to the election outcome, Prof Bekoe says.

She notes that Nasa has succeeded in court challenges to the vote-tallying methodology, including through a ruling that enables the opposition coalition to conduct parallel vote tabulation.

ELECTORAL STRATEGY

Devolution could push violence to the sub-national level, the study suggests, because local politicians now wield considerable political power.

Moreover, “attractive salaries and the prospect of increased grants from the central government” have intensified electoral competition at the county level. “Combined,” Prof Bekoe warns, “these factors heighten the risk that aspirants could use violence as an electoral strategy.”

Election-related violence has already begun, the analysis points out.

Several Kenyans were killed in protests against the IEBC, during party primaries in April and May, and in the “politically motivated clashes” in Laikipia,” Prof Bekoe asserts.

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