Kenya must balance peace with justice

“Good people, Kenya is a democracy, not a peace-ocracy. It is disconcerting that everyone who tries to raise concerns, however legitimate, about the conduct of the elections is being shouted down as endangering the peace.”
— Njonjo Mue, political activist and deputy director of the International Center for Transitional Justice

By Peter Mutua

NAIROBI — Kenya held its first general election under the new constitution promulgated in 2010 on March 4, 2013. The new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president, has been sworn into power. All, it seems, is well with the republic of Kenya.

Not so, starting with the electoral process itself. In a daring presentation titled “The Tyranny of Numbers,” Mutahi Ngunyi, a local political analyst, showed that the election was not, contrary to popular opinion, won on March 4, 2013. According to him, it was concluded on Dec. 18, 2012, when the one-month voter registration process ended. That process showed that two communities, the Kikuyu and Kalenjin, had registered in unprecedented numbers.

Given that they were the first and third most populous tribes and that Kenya has historically demonstrated that elections are ethnic affairs, the combination of these two communities with such high registration turnout was enough to outnumber any amalgamation of Kenya’s other 40 communities. The die, it seems, was cast.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s candidacy was not certain until mid-January 2013. That he, a Kikuyu, would join forces with William Ruto, a Kalenjin and fellow International Criminal Court suspect in Kenya’s post-election violence of 2008 that pitted these two communities against each other, shocked and surprised even the most imaginative commentator.

Second, as predicted by agencies both within and outside government, the fancied biometric voter registration system together with the electronic tallying systems failed on the day of the election. Among the reasons cited for these failures were that “some officers forgot to charge the mobile phones with which they were to transmit results.”

Truth be told, frontrunners Kenyatta and Raila Odinga were informed that the system would, in all likelihood, fail during the elections. It is assumed that since both were aware of this possibility, they sought to use the deficiencies to their advantage rather than raise an alarm.

Third, and most disconcerting, were the deliberate efforts to suppress dissenting opinions expressed during the voting, counting and tallying processes. Seemingly frightened by the effect inflammatory statements had during the general election of 2007 (after which the country slid into anarchy) the government in concert with the media served up a continuous stream of sweet syrup, painting the election process as a great success and “a victory for all Kenyans.”

Anyone who attempted to question glaring anomalies was disdainfully referred to as an unpatriotic warmonger, quickly silenced and shouted down by “peace-loving Kenyans.” Those who persisted were advised to go to court.

Kenya’s new president and his deputy have now been sworn in. The cases against them at the ICC are unraveling, with witnesses recanting sworn statements. It is not unlikely that charges will be dropped all together.

Where does this leave Kenya? It must be remembered that in 2008 more than 1,300 people were killed in the post-election violence, with more than 8,000 women and children raped and more than 600,000 people displaced from their homes. Very few, if any, perpetrators of these heinous crimes have been brought to book. Bitterness and rage, even between the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin — the main protagonists during the 2007 violence — simmers beneath the electoral victory.

The Mombasa Republican Council, a rebellious outfit based on Kenya’s coast, is determined to wreak havoc as it ominously proclaims that “Pwani si Kenya” (the coastal strip is not part of Kenya). They have to this end organized and executed deadly attacks against senior politicians and policemen.

Where in 2008 there was post-election violence, 2013’s animosity has now moved into cyberspace where scathing, ethnic vitriol flows freely on social networks and into the “losers” homes where men either commit suicide or take their frustration out on their wives and children.

In 1963, when Kenya attained independence, a patriot said: “It will take more than a national anthem, no matter how melodious; more than a national flag, no matter how colorful; and more than presidential speeches, no matter how stirring; to bring the people of Kenya together.”

Kenya cannot afford to suppress the quest for justice in favor of an uneasy calm. Kenya must put all its effort in delivering justice to all its people, allow free expression of dissent among citizens and ensure that every national has opportunities to participate in the country’s major decisions. As Njonjo says, Kenya is a democracy, not a peace-ocracy.

— Peter Mutua is a Humphrey Fellow and a leadership development consultant focused on family businesses in Kenya. He studied in Davis as part of his fellowship. Reach him at [email protected].

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