Sunday, March 3, 2013

Perspective on Kenya's Election--Narissa Allibhai

Tomorrow (it’s today there already), Kenya votes in a general election.  It marks the first such election since that in 2007 which was marred by violence, and the first since the hopeful passage of a new constitution in 2010.  This post comes from Narissa Allibhai, a Kenyan who is currently a UC Berkeley Mastercard Foundation Scholar in the Master of Development Practice program.  Allibhai previously worked for the Aga Khan Development Network, a giant in the development world in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, where she helped to initiate an East African think-tank that will carry out policy research in areas such as socio-economic and environmental resilience. 

Here, Allibhai discusses a perspective on the Kenyan elections that readers abroad are unlikely to get from media.


Yes, there was widespread ethnic violence after the 2007 elections. Yes, one of the leading presidential candidates has been indicted by the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. Yes, many Kenyans vote absolutely along tribal lines. Yes, there have been a few minor pockets of conflict in the run-up to this election.  No, this does not mean the massacre of last election is likely to reoccur in 2013.

Most international news pieces have, unsurprisingly, focused on the turmoil after Kenya’s last elections, the tribal divisions that are foreign to much of the international community, and the potential for violence this time round.

I will not point fingers at credible news sources, however many have been overemphasizing certain elements and downplaying others. It is generally known that the media will write stories and headlines that catch the eye, stir up worry, and sensationalise. However, this can have the negative effects of drawing excess attention to these negative aspects and risking self-fulfilling prophecies.

The peace efforts taking place in Kenya deserve a lot more attention than they have been getting. Most Kenyans definitely do not want a repeat of last time’s violence and are doing all they can to encourage peace this time around. There have been peace rallies, peace concerts, and mass prayers for peace by various religious groups. Community peace projects are being held in areas with violent histories, bringing together rival gangs from different ethnic groups. The PeaceTXT initiative updates communities about peace-building exercises and sends out violence-prevention messages. The recent film Ni Sisi (It Is Us) carries the message of personal accountability, learning from past mistakes, and strength to stand up against violence. The 3D animation Wageuzi (loosely translated as Transformers) reminds people of the extent politicians will go to gain power. Graffiti artists spray-painted a train that runs through key zones (Rift Valley and Kibera) with peace messages and images. Kenya is plastered with flyers, articles, billboards, editorials, you name it—all promoting peace. Kenyan social media is filled with facebook posts and Tweets asking for peace.

On the state level, various measures have been taken to ensure the election process itself will be more transparent than before, including fingerprinting voters, quicker vote counting and live feeds of voter data (to reduce time in which manipulation could occur). The 2010 constitution established electoral laws, the judiciary, and resulted in the creation of the Kenya National Commission of Human Rights, which is enforcing various measures to ensure “free and fair elections.” The new National Cohesion and Integration Commission monitors hate speech and promotes peaceful coexistence of communities. The presidential candidates themselves stressed peace and unity during the two presidential debates, and they have signed a pledge to keep the peace during campaigning and after the results are announced. As for security during the voting, each polling station will have three police officers on duty.

As the voting begins, I am nervous but hopeful that whatever the outcome of the election, my fellow Kenyans will lay aside their differences and put amani (peace) first.


News sources

----Narissa Allibhai

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