Public confidence and impartiality of State organs vital for elections

[Photo: File, Standard]

This week, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) released a report highlighting the likely conflict hotspots in Kenya before, during and after the August general election. The report is timely because of our lousy track record regarding electoral violence since the 1992 elections.  

Of the 47 counties, the report singled out 16 as volatile, 21 as medium and eight as less likely to have violence. Unsurprisingly, the high-risk counties are Nairobi, Nakuru, Kericho, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu and Mombasa. This is mainly due to pre-existing issues like inter-ethnic disputes over land, hate speech, and organised ethnic-based criminal gangs, often funded by politicians.

Other factors included corruption at all levels, high levels of unemployment, lack of inclusivity within government appointments, poor implementation of constitutional provisions, weak public institutions, and the lack of independence occasioned by the imposition of the executive on the other two arms of government.

However, what stood out was that most Kenyans do not have faith in the capacity of critical State actors such as the IEBC and the police.

This is unfortunate because Kenyans have spent billions on reforms to make elections free and fair and policing professional, accountable and human rights compliant. It is noteworthy how the 2007 elections were conducted. Police response was found wanting and contributed to many deaths, injuries and human rights violations. In some instances, the police were implicated in murder and sexual violence.

The NCIC report adds to the several government reports, such as the Waki report on PEV, the Ransley report on police reforms, and the National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) reports following the 2017 elections and court proceedings, including presidential petitions and other materials on electoral violence in Kenya.

For example, after the 2017 Supreme Court decision nullifying the August elections, one would have expected the IEBC, in conjunction with Parliament, to analyse the decision and propose changes to address the shortcomings. But instead, they sat on their hands. They allowed the commission to operate without several commissioners, who were finally replaced only last year.

Recently, civil society raised concerns regarding the management and transmission of results, delays in the procurement, the installation and testing of the requisite technology and proposed law amendments less than three months to elections. No wonder the NCIC report finds that over 70 per cent of Kenyans believe our democracy is in jeopardy. 

On policing, 60 per cent fear the police will be used as a State weapon to oppress political opponents. It is noteworthy that what is often characterised as political violence in 2013 and 2017 is police violence against people and areas perceived as opposed to the regime.

Civilians were not physically attacking each other based on tribe or political affiliation. Moreover, almost all the deaths, including the bludgeoning to death of six-month-old Baby Pendo and other violations, such as sexual violence, took place in the context of police allegedly “quelling protests and riots” in opposition strongholds. Can this cycle of state violence be allowed to continue?

Perhaps we need to reassess our public order management strategies, including emphasising command and individual responsibility within the police service. Protection of property can never justify lethal force, which should be only used to protect life.

We need to re-establish public confidence in vital State institutions such as IEBC, the Judiciary, police, and other organs that we rely on for free and fair elections. Actions and words that imply partiality ultimately undermine the Constitution and the continuation of our democracy and encourage some to use violence, jeopardising lives and livelihoods.

This opinion was first published in The Standard, 02nd June 2022. Kindly reproduced here with permission from The Standard.

The writer is Demas Kiprono, a Constitutional and Human Rights Lawyer. You can contact him at [email protected]