Avoid deadly consequences of incitement

Anti-government activists clash with security forces during a protest against the elections for a Constituent Assembly proposed by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas on July 30, 2017. PHOTO | RONALDO SCHEMIDT | AFP

The D-Day is nigh. A time like this last year, it looked as if the elections would never come or at least, not that soon.

As expected, tensions have been rising as the candidates jostle on the election campaign trail to edge one another out.

This is evident in all the strongly contested positions, but especially so in those that research scientists would refer to as a ‘statistical dead heat’.

Ideally, elections shouldn’t be a matter of life and death. Business shouldn’t come to a standstill.

That is how it is in many mature democracies. The only worry for voters and businesses should be whether a significant policy shift follows the arrival of a new administration.

Kenya, unfortunately, is still making baby steps towards mature democracy.

There are a lot of rough edges that need trimming.

Elections here are not (and have never been) won on policy platforms. Neither are they won on a candidate’s track record.

It is difficult for an excellent candidate with superior ideas for transforming the nation to emerge from say, civil society, the private sector, academia or even politics itself, and sweep voters, quite literally, off to a resounding victory.

This is because things almost always start at the tribal level.

One must gain acceptance as the would-be saviour of his ethnic community from those “others”, who the people are made to believe are intent on destroying them.

That tribe better be a big and influential one. Once the tribe has anointed one of their own as the de facto king, money and networks come into play.The leader should be exceedingly wealthy, the source notwithstanding.

Money is required to excite the base and whip up the support of other communities, while promising them positions and deals in a new administration.

Networks are critical in raising funds, both locally and abroad for the elections.

And with weak laws on campaign financing, individuals and corporations that fund the candidates do so with the expectation of a significant return on the ‘investment’.


Little wonder then that elections here are a do-or-die affair. It is as if the election of one of their own transforms the life of every member of the community.

We all know that does not happen. If anything, bad policy decisions can plunge the entire nation into economic and political chaos.

Looking at the political landscape, one can sense growing fear and intolerance.

In previous articles, I have referred to the analogy of people collecting firewood to light a bonfire.

They collect large stumps that can keep the fire going for days. But they also collect leaves, twigs, sticks and branches, which play a key role in igniting the big fire.

This is exactly what politicians and their campaign teams do with reckless abandon.

The political environment has in the past year been poisoned with all the elements of firewood collection for a bonfire.

“They are our enemies”, “they are planning to rig the elections”, “this country will burn”, “the military is being used to rig the elections,” “IEBC is collaborating with our competitors….”

These seemingly innocuous remarks and small incidents here and there can ignite the already collected firewood into a bonfire consuming everybody, including those who had nothing to do with the firewood collection.

The results could be catastrophic not just for Kenya, but also for the entire region, jeopardising security, safety, freedom of association, life, and dignity.

The voters must reject any attempts to set them up against one another. Yes, we need a credible poll, but this must be achieved through constitutional means and not through violence.

Mr Nyang’aya is the Amnesty International Kenya Country Director. justus.nyangaya@amnesty.or.ke