Ahead of local and national elections taking place in Kenya this week, local peacebuilders have been calling for calm in the northern county of Garissa, a region identified as a potential hotspot for post-election violence.
Ten years after national elections in 2007 led to near civil-war in the country, local peacebuilders are working to ensure the elections on 8 August do not escalate into bloodshed. On 5 August, a multi-stakeholder forum in Garissa County, supported by Conciliation Resources, brought together peacebuilders, government officials, elders, religious leaders and media, including women and youth, for a one-day forum to discuss ways of promoting peace before, during and after the elections.
The group condemned all forms of divisive politics that contribute to electoral violence and conflict in Garissa County, and other parts of Kenya. In Garissa, political competition over control of County government and Garissa Township Parliamentary seat by the two main Ogaden sub-clans is fuelling the current tensions. Garissa suffers from a history of clan violence, state neglect and more recently terrorism from Al-Shabaab (including the deadly attack on Garissa University College in 2015 that killed 147 students). The group called on the local leaders to form an all-inclusive County government that unites the residents and address legacies of marginalisation, poverty and injustices in the area.
There is widespread concern that social media could be used as a tool to aggravate clan tensions and incite violence, with Kenya having amongst the highest number of social media users in sub-Saharan Africa.
The forum participants released a joint statement to local media, calling for residents of Garissa to maintain peace during and after elections, and for local election officials to deliver credible, free, fair and peaceful elections in the county. They also called on local politicians to publically declare their willingness to work for peaceful elections and avoid incitement of hatred, and to address any electoral disputes through non-violent means.
Participants also asked religious leaders and the media to help promote the messages of peaceful elections through churches, mosques, radio and social media channels, and called on social media organisations to take appropriate actions against those inciting violence on their platforms.
Conciliation Resources has been supporting the training and mentoring of members of Local Peace Committees (LPCs) in Garissa County, including women, youth, elders and religious leaders, to prevent and manage existing and new community-level conflicts, including election-related conflict. This work is funded by ifa (Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen) with resources provided by the German Federal Foreign Office.
The forum participants made the following recommendations:
- All Garissa residents to maintain peace and stability before, during and after the elections;
- NCIC, security institutions and social media organisations to take appropriate legal actions against proponents of hate messages and incitement to violence in social media platforms;
- All voters in Garissa to turn out and exercise their democratic rights to vote on the election day, Tuesday, 8 August 2017;
- Local IEBC officials in Garissa to discharge their constitutional duties and responsibilities and deliver credible, free, fair and peaceful elections in Garissa;
- All local politicians/candidates in Garissa to publicly declare their willingness to work for peaceful elections and avoid incitement to hatred and violence during and after the elections;
- Local politicians/candidates in Garissa to address any electoral disputes and grievances through judicial mechanisms and other non-violent means;
- Local politicians (who are going to be elected) to pursue inclusive politics, avoid a winner-take-all approach and reach out to all communities in the area including forming a representative government that includes all residents of the area;
- (To be) Elected leaders to work for the common interest of Garissa people and use their office and resources to address legacies of marginalisation, under-development and poverty in the area and not cause further marginalisation and injustice in the area;
- Religious leaders and media to promote these messages of peaceful elections and co-existence through mosques, churches, radios and social media channels;
- All residents and peacebuilding stakeholders to continue to work for peaceful co-existence of all communities in Garissa at all times.