What is electoral violence?
Behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.
Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation,” although the group acknowledges that the inclusion of “the use of power” in its definition expands on the conventional understanding of the word
Electoral violence is a sub-type of political violence in which actors employ coercion in an instrumental way to advance their interests or achieve specific political ends. Similarly,societies prone to experiencing election-related violence are normally vulnerable to broader kinds of political violence; Kosovo, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, or Colombia are examples of instances in which electoral violence is embedded in abroader, often ongoing context of deep-rooted social conflict.
Electoral violence includes acts, such as assassination of opponents or spontaneous fisticuffs between rival groups of supporters and threats, coercion, and intimidation of opponents, voters, or election officials. Threat and intimidation is a form of coercion that is just as powerful as acts of violence can be. Indeed, one purpose of acts of terrorism such as tossing a grenade into a crowd of rival supporters is an act diabolically designed to induce fear and to intimidate (e.g., to suppress mobilization or voting by that group).
Violent acts can be targeted against people or things, such as the targeting of communities or candidates or the deliberate destruction of campaign materials, vehicles, offices, or ballot boxes.
BACKGROUND OF ELECTIONS IN KENYA
Nationwide elections have taken place in Kenya since 1920, when the first elections to the Legislative Council were held. The legislature initially had 11 elected Europeans and three members appointed to represent Indians and Arabs, together with a number of nominated officials. By the next elections in 1924, suffrage had been extended to Indians and Arabs, with five seats given to the Indian community and one to the Arabs, as well as one seat appointed to represent the majority African population. However, the Indian community demanded equal representation with the Europeans, and when this was not forthcoming, boycotted the elections, with not a single Indian candidate standing. This boycott continued for the 1927 elections, although one Indian candidate did stand.
All five Indian seats were filled by election in the 1931 elections, and further elections took place under the same system in 1934, 1938, 1944 and 1948. Prior to the 1952 elections the number of European seats was increased to 14 and the Indian seats to six, with six African members appointed. The same system was used in 1956, but in March 1957 elections were held for eight African seats, the first time the African population had been able to vote.
The 1961 elections were the first held under universal suffrage, although 20 of the 65 seats in the expanded Council were reserved for Europeans (10), Indians (8) and Arabs (2). The Kenya African National Union (KANU) emerged as the largest party, winning 19 seats and taking 67.5% of the vote. The electoral system was changed again prior to the 1963 elections, with the creation of a 129-seat House of Representatives and a 38-seat Senate. KANU won a majority in the House of Representatives and the most seats in the Senate, allowing Jomo Kenyatta to become the first Prime Minister, and upon independence the following year, President.
Multi-party politics remained in place for a few years after independence; when several KANU MPs left the party to form the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) in 1966, a constitutional amendment was passed requiring them to face by-elections. This came to be known as the little general election, in which the KPU received a majority of the vote, but KANU won more than 60% of the seats. Later in the year the Senate was abolished, as it was merged with the House of Representatives to form the National Assembly. The KPU was subsequently banned in 1969 and Kenya became a one-party state. As a result, KANU won every seat in elections in 1969, 1974, 1979, 1983 and 1988, with the elections seeing multiple KANU candidates run against each other.
With the wave of democratization sweeping across Africa in the early 1990s, multi-party politics was reintroduced, together with the direct election of the president. General elections took place in 1992, and saw KANU retain control of the government, with President Daniel arap Moi re-elected with 36% of the vote and KANU winning 100 of the 188 seats in the National Assembly. Moi was re-elected again in 1997 with 40% of the vote, whilst KANU retained its parliamentary majority, taking 107 of the 210 seats.
Democracy has been embraced by all. Democracy has given the power to rule to the people. A fundamental bed rock of democracy is the election of political leaders through the electoral box.
Electoral process gives the citizens the sole right to elect their preferred political leaders. The electoral process have most often been characterized by violence at various stages, from pre-election, during elections and post elections. This electoral process which give rights to the people to govern themselves is been challenged by the threats to security, peace and development.
Electoral violence can be seen manifested in various forms as physical assaults, arson (the illegal use of fire to destroy a house, building or property), snatching of ballot boxes and murder.
Electoral violence in Kenya is caused by poverty. Poverty in Kenya is very alarming and this gives room for the unemployed majority to be manipulated to perpetuate all forms of electoral violence. Poverty is the state of been poor. It is a situation whereby a person is not able to meet the basic necessity of life. A person exposed to hardships is more likely to engage in electoral violence than a rich person in society. When the economic hardship becomes too unbearable, the propensity for violence increases. “Army of unemployed youth” then becomes a tool for electoral violence.
Electoral violence is triggered as a result of the culture of impunity. The ineffectiveness and malfunctioning of the security forces also give people the push to stage electoral violence. The ineffectiveness especially on the part of the police service is a major factor which encourages electoral violence. Pre-electoral violence is often associated with killings but the police service always fails to get to the root of those killings. This failure seems to be creating a culture of impunity and motivation for recurrence of crimes and violence in our society.
Electoral violence is not been met with strong criminal codes in Kenya. Weak penalties or punishment for violators of electoral process also give room for more crimes to be committed. Penalties or punishment are intended to achieve correction, retribution and deterrence. lack of proper legislation against perpetrators of certain electoral offences poses elections to have all forms of crimes and violence.
Weak governance and corruption can also instigate electoral violence. Corruption can set the stage for structural violence. Weak governance and corruption make people feel desperate enough to seek any means of revenge against political authority including violence. Small arms in Kenya are on the increase. Possession of arms leads to the perpetuation of violent conflict and the creation of new cycles of violence and crime.
Unclear election results that aren’t credible. The unrest in Kenya began in December 2007, when Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner and his main opponent, Raila Odinga, claimed there had been countless instances of vote-rigging. It had been the closest election in Kenya’s history.
“One of the issues is that people went to bed the last time thinking one side had won and they woke up the next day and the other side had won,” said Bill Sweeney, the president of IFES, which provides technical assistance for elections. “There was very little transparency in the process, which gave rise to the tensions in the society. There remain lots of conspiracy theories as to what happened.”
That might sound like a familiar problem — the 2000 U.S. election was also famously extremely close, strongly disputed and involved some voting irregularities (hanging chads, anyone?) But unlike the U.S., Kenya lacked a strong judiciary to resolve the issue.
The problem was, Kenya’s political system previously just didn’t grant much power to anyone but the president, the same guy who had just been accused of stealing the election.
A system where the winner “takes all” Kenyan political parties operate around personalities, rather than ideologies. The candidate is a vehicle of his own party or ethnic group. The country also has what’s called “zero-sum ethnic politics,” which means supporters of losing parties don’t see opponent victories as a win for the other side — they see it as a loss for themselves and their ethnic group.
Some studies have found that elections in which the winner wins too much there tends to spark feuding because both sides have more at stake than simply seeing their party in charge. While supporters of the winner may be more likely to get civil service jobs or better development projects for their regions, losers may become economically disadvantaged.
A precedent of violence proving effective. Kenyan MPs earn high salaries , and elections are costly to run. The incentives to win can be overpowering.
Kenyan government officials were involved directly or indirectly in influencing the ethnic hatred and inciting the violence. Politicians on both sides give speeches that incite the communities. Kenya has a long history of politicians using hired gangs to influence election results. In 1992, Human Rights Watch found that high-ranking Kenyan government officials had armed so-called “Kalenjin warriors” to attack villages of their opponents with bows and arrows and to torch their homes.
Historical and political dimensions .Political problems that threaten to tear Kenya apart require analysis that goes beyond ethnicity as portrayed in the media and current analyses that attempt to explain the situation. More correctly, emphasis and focus should be placed on the interpenetration of historical and current political developments whose origins can be traced in the early stages of state formation in Kenya. In 19th century the area that became Kenya could be described as stateless, but was made up of various nationalities. Some commentators have claimed that peoples’ civility, and ethnicity was shaped by their subsistence farming or herding, or some mixture of both”.
Nationalism in Kenya begun as early as 1922. Violence and armed struggle was led by the Mau Mau and by 1955, 13,000 Africans had lost their lives (see Anderson, 2007). In the early 1960s, Moi, Muliro and Ngala of KADU supported regionalism against Kenyatta, Odinga and Mboya and KANU’s nationalism (associated with the centralized system). By 1960, two national parties were formed (what could be described as the first multi-party era in Kenya). These two parties were already divided over the type of system that would serve the African interests. Alliance by leadings lights from various groups which made up KADU and KANU respectively, also played out in the struggles for release of those in detention and efforts to form the first government. The British were forced to retreat from Kenya and subsequently, release Jomo Kenyatta from detention at Kapenguria.
When Kenya gained “independence” from Britain in 1963, it inherited non-democratic institutions and cultures, which later fell into the hands of corrupted politicians and governments. This exemplifies the de-colonization programme that retained the colonial apparatuses of security forces and political repression in the post-colony (see Anderson, 1998) and compromise over the land question. Post-colonial “officials” lavished themselves with political and economic favours in a pattern that has extended into the post-post-colonial era (Moi who was a member of KADU and later KANU, Kibaki who was technocrat in KANU from 1963, Michuki the Internal Security Minister, Njenga Karume, the Defence Minister among others). This process has been captured by some analysts who have pointed out that these developments mirrors what was a distinctly colonial view of the rule of law, which saw the British leave behind legal systems that facilitated tyranny, oppression and poverty rather than open, accountable government(Elkins, 2007/8)
Ethnic composition and competitive politics
While national level political competition in Kenya is often misunderstood and shallowly interpreted in terms of a competition between the Kikuyu and the Luo, most commentators on Kenya’s politics do ignore the position and role of the Kalenjin, Luhya, Kamba, Kisii, Coastal peoples (Mijikenda), Swahili, Arabs, Indians and Europeans who live in large farms/ranches and important urban areas in Kenya. Each of these groups subsumes a number of smaller ethnic units that become relevant bases of social identity in more localized settings. The groups hardly mentioned are the Ogieks, and the Jemps who are the original occupants of some parts of present Rift valley but have since been displaced or evicted to create room for current occupants. What is however neglected in the debate about Kenyan politics is the reality that all groups have a stake in the running of the Kenyan polity, but due to systematic exclusion of some groups from the national leadership, competitive politics in Kenya is bound to have an ethnic dimension
Electoral politics in Kenya can also be understood best by looking at the role of the process and institutions charged with overseeing such a process. The electoral system in Kenya is based on constituencies whose boundaries are congruent with the boundaries of tribal areas. These boundaries have been used to manipulate democratic outcomes. The constituencies are represented by a member of parliament and a number of local authority representatives at ward, town and urban council levels. Their election takes place at the same time as that of presidential and parliamentary ones. The boundaries are determined by the electoral commission if there is evidence that populations have outgrown the current demarcations. This decision is however made by the electoral commission without consulting the local communities and in most cases at the directive of the president. The president without parliamentary approval appoints the Commission. However the problem with numbers in Kenyan politics is that they are never correct or close to truth. This originates from history of manipulation of constituency population numbers during the single party era, but also lack of regular census and update of births and deaths records. It is therefore not surprising to see “ghost names” in voter registers (not deleted even after a whole five year preparation and multibillion investment in the process) or to see number of registered voters increase during presidential vote tallying contrary to the actual number at constituency level or previous attempt to create extra constituencies in the incumbent friendly regions in order to meet the 25% constitutional requirement for presidential eligibility.
But the problem with the electoral process did not start in recent years; the political competition that followed immediately after independence gave birth to the mechanisations, manipulation of the institutions responsible for electoral process and the blatant rape of the constitution to suit those in power. This begun with the erosion of the party system, when immediately after independence in 1963, the political alliances begun to fall apart with KADU joining KANU and internal struggles within KANU leading to the formation of KPU. together and managed to defeated Moi’s preferred choice of successor, Uhuru Kenyatta (the son of Jomo Kenyatta). Moi was voted out of office in 2002, and Kibaki became president.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MEASURES ARE NOT ADAPTED TO COMBAT ELECTORAL VIOLENCE?
Electoral violence is associated with a huge cost. A cost which must be paid by member states and Africa as whole.
Electoral violence leads to political instability. Electoral violence is both the causative and symptomatic in Africa. It is the causative because it feeds the political crises that manifest regularly. Political violence is a threat to building a strong, efficient and visible democratic Africa. It leads to anti-human acts as basic human rights, issues of gender equality; cultural rights and identities are often either ignored or trampled upon. These adversely affect the human security and social development of Africa.
Electoral violence breeds insecurity as it is often characterized by loss of life’s and properties. It forms the catalyst for human and property insecurity. Over millions of people are killed; billions of people displaced and properties worth billions have been burnt, looted and destroyed. Where will all these lead us to as a continent? Aside leading to political, social and economic insecurity, there are attendant costs of ensuring security, repairs of damaged infrastructure. These resources could have been put into an alternative use to better human and social development.
It is very pathetic to observe in dismay that development cannot occur in the absence of peace and security due to electoral violence, yet day in and day out, we witness them across the continent. Africa suffers from an atmosphere of insecurity and political instability. Electoral violence drives away prospective foreign investors due to the lack of adequate security for their investments. Private domestic investors will also lose confidence in their respective countries and opt for foreign investment.
Electoral violence leaves so many people across the streets of Africa homeless. No place to lay their head and lack of access to food and portable drinking water.
Electoral violence renders some Africans orphans; some become physically handicapped; hunger and death are the least. At least, this should not be the portion of the black African. There must surely be a change in the trend of our electoral processes as a continent.
THE WAY FORWARD
What then should be done to avert the actions and inactions of perpetrators causing electoral violence in our region? Africa has been harmed enough through this electoral violence. It is time we as Africans exercise some level of integrity in our electoral process.
Most importantly anti-corruption measures must be adopted. Corruption affects every facet of life in Africa. Measures must be implemented to ensure accountability and transparency. Corrupt public officers must be seen prosecuted to serve as a deterrent to others. Governments must intensify their anti-corruption fight.
The problems of poverty, unemployment and underemployment could be addressed by pragmatic steps by governments towards national economic stability.
Then again the security sectors have a major role to play in ensuring law and order in any society. The security sector must be well structured, equipped and motivated enough to play its role in ensuring the consolidation of democracy in Africa.
There is a need for capacity building for the police force and other security agencies in the areas of small arms proliferation to enable effective performance of their duties.
There must be some level of co-operation between the police service and the other security agencies. The electoral body which is the electoral commission (EC) must be well equipped and resourced with both human and physical capital. Electoral officers must be well trained and motivated. The security sector must educate the public on the consequences of violating the electoral laws.
Moreover, there must be some level of electoral reforms and good governance. The underlying problem of political instability in our society is the lack of good governance.
Hence to resolve political violence, accountability, social justice, transparency, rule of law, gender equality and due process must guide governance and leadership in Africa. Electoral reforms must include other things as mass education. There must be some level of education for the citizenry to know who is a registered and considered as an eligible voter under the laws of the land.When these measures are well instigated, integrated and adhered to, Africa will be freed and void of any electoral violence.
The point must be made that despite the challenges that emanates from the practice of democracy, it is far better than any other form of governance that Africa can think of.