A man votes during primaries in Nairobi, Kenya, in late April. April 26, 2017. © 2016 Reuters /Thomas Mukoya

Kenya Elections 2017

Kenya Elections 2017

On September 1, Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the August 8 elections, in which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner with over 54 percent of votes. In compliance with court orders, the IEBC scheduled fresh elections for October 26, the withdrawal of Raila Odinga on October 10 has created uncertainty on whether the elections could take place on the stated date. The elections were marred by serious human rights violations by Kenyan security forces, who used excessive force to break up protests and carry out house-to-house operations particularly in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and western Kenya. At least 12 people were killed by police in western counties of Kisumu and Siaya alone and another 33 in Nairobi during the violence.

Over the past five years, Kenyan authorities have consistently failed to adequately investigate a range of abuses across the country and undermine basic rights to free expression and association. Human rights activists and journalists face numerous obstacles and harassment.</p>

Latest Updates from Kenya

We will no longer be updating this blog as frequently. For recent developments on Kenya, please visit our Kenya webpage at: https://www.hrw.org/africa/kenya


Residents flee as anti-riot policemen pursue opposition protestors in Mathare, Nairobi, on August 12. © 2017 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Government Crackdown Threatens Rights

Miguna Miguna (left) partakes in Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s symbolic presidential oath of office, Nairobi, Kenya, January 30, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

Human rights groups have been concerned since President Uhuru Kenyatta took power in 2013 at the authoritarian direction Kenya’s government has been taking. But the situation has taken an alarming turn in the past week. Three highly repressive measures by the authorities since January 30 should worry us all, including the international community, which has been treating Kenyatta’s administration with kid gloves.

Kenyan media and nongovernment groups that are even mildly critical of the government have come under immense pressure in the last five years.

Read the full Oped here:

Kenya: Bring Detained Lawyer to Court

Miguna Miguna (left) partakes in Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s symbolic presidential oath of office, Nairobi, Kenya, January 30, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

(Nairobi)– Kenyan police should urgently produce Miguna Miguna, an opposition party lawyer who was arrested in Nairobi on February 2, 2018. He is among three people, including two members of parliament, arrested in a crackdown by Kenyan authorities against those who participated in Raila Odinga’s oath ceremony on January 30. Police have failed to produce Miguna in court in accordance with court orders on both February 2 and February 5, as well as Kenyan law, which requires the accused to be brought to court within 24 hours.

“Kenyan authorities should urgently obey a court order to either release or produce Miguna Miguna in court,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The flagrant flouting of court orders undermines the basic concept of the rule of law.”

Odinga, presidential candidate for the leading opposition coalition, NASA, rejected Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory in the country’s presidential election, after a court ordered a rerun of the August 8 election. Miguna and another lawyer, Tom Kajwang, swore in Odinga as “the people’s president” on January 30 on the basis of August 8 election results, which Odinga and his NASA coalition insist they won.

The authorities also ignored a February 1 court order suspending the government shutdown of mainstream television and radio stations on January 30. 

Authorities Arbitrarily Shut Down TV, Radio Coverage

Supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition gather ahead of Odinga's planned swearing-in ceremony as the President of the People's Assembly at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, Kenya, January 30, 2018.  © 2018 Reuters

Kenyan authorities stopped news outlets from covering a planned public event by a political opposition leader on January 30, 2018.. The Communications Authority of Kenya switched off three television stations and their affiliated radio stations. The television and radio stations were still off air at time of writing.

The authorities appear to have been angered by the decision of the media companies to defy President Uhuru Kenyatta’s order to editors at a meeting on January 26 not to cover the planned swearing in of the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, who rejected Kenyatta’s victory on October 26, 2017 in the presidential election. The Kenyan authorities have not given any explanation or legal justification for their attempt to ban media coverage of Odinga.

Please read the full report here:

Kenya: Security Forces Should Respond with Restraint

Residents flee as anti-riot policemen pursue opposition protestors in Mathare, Nairobi, on August 12. © 2017 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

“With political tensions mounting ahead of the planned swearing-in of opposition candidate Raila Odinga, it is crucial security forces respond to any protests or violence with restraint and respect for rights,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Everyone should respect and uphold rights enshrined in the constitution and international law, especially the right to life.”

Kenya: Sexual Violence Marred Elections

(Nairobi) – Widespread sexual violence marred Kenya’s 2017 elections, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Kenyan government should urgently take steps to protect women and girls, as well as men and boys, from sexual violence.

The full report can be accessed here:

Kenya: Rein in Police, Condemn New Abuses

An opposition supporter gestures in front of policemen during clashes in Kawangware slum in Nairobi, Kenya October 30, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

(Nairobi) – Kenyan authorities should condemn recent violence, rein in any police abuses, and investigate scores of killings, most of them by police, during the prolonged electoral period, Human Rights Watch said today.

A series of protests and clashes between police and opposition supporters began on November 17, 2017, at the Nairobi airport while supporters of the opposition leader Raila Odinga escorted him to the town center. Protests and clashes continued in opposition strongholds in Nairobi and western Kenya following the Supreme Court decision on November 20 affirming President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election.

Read the full statement here:

Kenya, Again, Represses Civil Society

Members of Kura Yangu Sauti Yangu address the media after the NGO Board asked them to stop their operations On Monday November 6, 2017. © 2017 KHRC

Days ahead of the deadline for filing petitions against the repeat presidential election results on November 6, Kenyan authorities, again, cracked down on civil society groups critical of the vote in which Uhuru Kenyatta was once again proclaimed winner.

On November 3, the Kenya Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Board, the regulatory authority for nongovernmental groups, summoned three civil society organizationsInuka Kenya, Katiba Institute and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) – to respond to allegations of money laundering and employing foreigners without valid work permits, among other reasons.

And on November 6, the board banned the operations of, “Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu” (“My Vote, My Voice”), an election campaign initiative by a coalition of civil society groups, and, “We the People,” a citizen’s alliance that focuses on good governance, for allegedly operating illegal bank accounts and funding political operations in Kenya.

These organizations say they were targeted because of their work. The head of MUHURI said his organization was targeted because of its involvement in filing elections petitions. He believed the board’s action amounted to a “witch-hunt.”

This is not the first time the board has targeted civil society organizations that were critical of the government or that challenged the credibility of results during this election season.

On August 14, days after Kenyatta was initially declared the winner of the now-annulled August 8 presidential election, the board announced it had cancelled the registration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) – one of the oldest human rights groups in Kenya citing alleged tax evasion and other issues.

A day later, the board wrote to the director of criminal investigations with a request to shut down the offices of the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and arrest its directors. AfriCOG is an organization that specializes in governance issues and has criticized Kenyan authorities for corruption. A high court judge in Nairobi temporarily stopped the board from shutting down AfriCOG and the acting interior cabinet secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, put on hold the deregistration of the two groups, pending further investigations.

Then on October 5, the board also threatened to suspend the activities of the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), an organization engaged in funding the judiciary including programs concerning the handling of election disputes.

The recent crackdown is part of a wider repression of civil society in Kenya in recent years. The government urgently needs to change course and instead of harassing these organizations, Kenyan authorities should respect their rights and their role in meaningful dialogue.

Another Kenya Election, More Abuses

An opposition supporter gestures in front of policemen during clashes in Kawangware slum in Nairobi, Kenya October 30, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

On October 26, Kenya held its second presidential election two months after the Supreme Court nullified the results of the August 8 polls after a successful legal challenge by the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga. The vote was held in a tense environment after Odinga boycotted the election – citing lack of faith in the electoral body – and urged his supporters to stay home on voting day.

On October 30, Uhuru Kenyatta was once again proclaimed the winner – but the result was quickly rejected by Odinga and his supporters. Okiya Omtatah, an activist, has asked the Supreme Court to nullify the election, arguing it was voided by Odinga’s withdrawal.

As in the August vote, the repeat elections were marred by violent protests, killings, and beatings in key opposition strongholds along the coast, and the western and eastern parts of Kenya. Police appear to have, again, used excessive force on protesters in opposition strongholds, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries.

While the full extent of the violence is still unclear, credible sources indicate the casualties appear to be in the dozens. A Kenyan human rights body announced on Wednesday that police killed 13 people before, during, and after the October 26 vote. The Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) documented violations, and said police responded to riots using indiscriminate force, especially in opposition strongholds.

So far, Kenyan police have grossly underestimated the scale of the abuses this year. On Thursday, they publicly acknowledged that 19 people were killed around the two votes; but Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that during the August poll, police killed at least 33 people, possibly as many as 50, and injured hundreds more in some parts of Nairobi alone.

But with the possibility of more protests looming, the best thing Kenyan authorities can do is take reports of abuses seriously. That means giving clear instructions to police to respect the law and investigating all alleged killings, injuries, and unlawful use of force by officers during both votes and hold those responsible for abuses to account. These are crucial steps, not only for the victims of police violence, but also to ensure Kenyans can exercise their right to express their political views and grievances.

Risk of Sexual Violence Around Kenya’s Repeat Election

Wairimu V., 65, was raped by a group of men at an IDP camp. Her husband blames her for the rape, and beats and verbally abuses her including in the presence of their children. She would like to leave her abusive husband but is worried that she will not be able to support herself. She has such severe pain in her leg, lower abdomen and back that she has to take pain killers daily; she also has vaginal bleeding and hypertension. Many sexual violence survivors are still in urgent need of medical treatment and psycho-social support.  © 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch research confirms that, once again, there was sexual violence against women and girls during the most recent post-election violence in Kenya. I interviewed over 50 victims and witnesses in Mathare, Kisumu, Bungoma, and Dandora. They told me about rape, gang rape, attempted rape, unwanted sexual touching, and beatings on their genitals, including by members of security forces and militia groups and civilians.

Read the full dispatch here

Kenya: Police Killed, Beat Post-Election Protesters

Residents flee as anti-riot policemen pursue opposition protestors in Mathare, Nairobi, on August 12.  © 2017 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

(Nairobi) – Kenyan police killed at least 33 people, possibly as many as 50, and injured hundreds more in some parts of Nairobi, the capital, in response to protests following the August 8, 2017 elections, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint report.

The 37-page report, ‘Kill Those Criminals’: Security Forces’ Violations in Kenya’s August 2017 Elections,” documents excessive use of force by police, and in some cases other security agents, against protesters and residents in some of Nairobi’s opposition strongholds after the elections.

Kenya: Police Protection Needed for Judiciary

Kenya's Supreme Court judge chief justice David Maraga presides before delivering the ruling making last month's presidential election in which Uhuru Kenyatta's win was declared invalid in Nairobi, Kenya, September 1, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

(Nairobi) – Kenya’s chief justice, David Maraga, has asked the Kenyan police for protection for the judiciary because of the continuing protests and tension over a Supreme Court decision on September 20, 2017, which is expected to provide grounds for the nullification of the presidential election.

The following quote can be attributed to Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch:

“The hostile rhetoric and escalating tensions in Kenya ahead of tomorrow’s final Supreme Court decision on nullifying the August presidential election are a source of grave concern. With demonstrations ongoing, the police should take immediate steps to prevent violence and urgently respond to the Chief Justice’s request to protect members of the judiciary.”

Election-related Sexual Violence in Kenya


“Is there no justice for rape?” asked Jane, a young woman from Nairobi’s slums. “If police, who should be helping us, can just rape women and nothing is done to them, what will prevent men from continuing to rape us?”

Jane (not her real name) claimed to have been gang-raped by three members of the General Service Unit (GSU), a para-military wing of the Kenyan police.

She is one of the more than 150 women, girls and men I interviewed about sexual violence during the political violence of 2007 and 2008.

The number is unknown but it’s likely that thousands of rapes occurred—including many by state security agents. Many victims were left with illness and serious injuries.

Read the full oped here

Kenya: Post-Election Killings, Abuse

Riot policemen arrive to disperse protesters in Kisumu, Kenya after Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga claimed he was going to reject the outcome of the August 8 elections. August 9, 2017.  © 2017 Baz Ratner/Reuters

Kenya’s presidential election on August 8, 2017 was marred by serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings and beatings by police during protests and house-to-house operations in western Kenya. At least 12 people were killed and over 100 badly injured.

Read the full report here:

Kenya’s Government Should Know Free Press is Crucial for Fair Election

An anti-riot police officer aims a teargas canister while journalists cover an anti-corruption protest in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. November 3, 2016.  © 2016 REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Duncan Khaemba, a television journalist in Kenya, was reporting on cases of violence in Kibera, a low-income neighborhood in Nairobi, when he was arrested with his colleague Otieno Willis on August 12, and subsequently released. Media reported they were arrested for having bullet-proof gear.

Whether or not the arrest was designed to intimidate, it occurred during a period of intimidation faced by Kenyan press before, during, and after the 2017 elections. Many journalists were slow to report on the violence that marred the announcement of results, although the international press were able to report freely. Even as some protests in opposition strongholds and victory celebrations elsewhere turned violent, Kenyan media was silent for the first 12 hours, which left Kenyans grasping at unverified reports on social media.

People are questioning the information vacuum: why did local press take so long to cover the violence, or corroborate online reports of police brutality? Before judging local media harshly, let’s recall that Kenyan journalists still face harassment, detention, and repression while reporting on the country’s crises.

Local press has had to walk a fine line, facing accusations of bias from the opposition and government alike. In the post-election violence of 2007-2008, the media were accused of fueling violence after broadcasting images of battles between police and youth in various parts of the country. In the 2013 elections, much of the Kenyan media avoided reporting on unrest that followed voting that year.

Human Rights Watch spoke to journalists and bloggers in Kenya ahead of the 2017 election and found that many of them are self-censoring to avoid getting in trouble with the state. Editors spoke out against threats in the lead-up to the election, but journalists continue to face undue harassment from police and other state agents.

As an economic and political leader in East Africa, Kenya should end this suppression. The state should support free press to ensure that citizens critique important processes such as elections and their aftermath. Now more than ever, it is critical that the Kenyan government and other state authorities provide protection for press, investigate reports of intimidation, and ensure justice for crimes against journalists. 

Kenyan Government Cracks Down on Rights Groups


On August 14, the Kenya Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Coordination Board, Kenya’s national regulatory authority for nongovernmental groups, announced it had cancelled the registration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) – one of the oldest human rights groups in Kenya  – citing alleged tax evasion and other reasons.

A day later the NGO Coordination Board wrote to the director of criminal Investigations with a request to shut down the offices of the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and arrest its directors. AfriCOG is an NGO that specializes in governance issues and has been very critical of Kenyan authorities over corruption.

On August 16, police and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials attempted to raid AfriCOG offices but were denied access by the organization’s lawyers.

Both groups have been critical of the conduct of last week's disputed national election and raised alarms about reported instances of police brutality in parts of the country in response to protests against the declaration of the elections results.

On August 15, a high court judge in Nairobi temporarily stopped the NGO Coordination Board from shutting down AfriCOG. While the acting interior cabinet secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, put on hold the deregistration of the two groups, he directed further investigations into the compliance issues raised by the Coordination Board.

These developments recall the Kenyan government’s broader attacks on civil society groups in recent years. In April 2015, authorities included two human rights organizations, Haki Africa and MUHURI, on a list of organizations allegedly supporting terrorism, then deregistered and froze their bank accounts. A judge later cleared the groups of any links with terrorism after police failed to provide evidence.

Rather than investing time and resources in harassing civil society organizations, Kenyan authorities should focus on addressing the human rights concerns the groups have been raising. The government should respect the freedoms accorded to civil society in the Kenyan constitution and international human rights law.

Addressing Brutality in Nairobi’s Low-Income Areas

Protesters hold a sign in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya, August 13, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

On Sunday, in the wake of Kenya’s August 8 election, allegations of violence in Nairobi’s Mathare neighborhood, allegedly criminal gangs with political affiliations, exploded on social media. On the previous days, police had obstructed protests against the election process in Mathare, beating many young men along the way. Similar violence and police brutality was also reported in Kibra and Kawangware settlements.

No doubt, credible investigations into what exactly happened in Mathare are desperately needed. Information and corroboration has been slow; some officials have rushed to say that the reports were “fake news” and threatened to arrest anyone suggesting that Mungiki, a gang previously involved in political violence after the 2007 elections, may have been involved this time. But it is going to take time for facts to emerge, as victims fear coming forward and activists remain in hiding.

If Kenya’s police think they can treat these allegations as fake news, they are going to need to come up with a better approach.

Because no matter what happened on Sunday, allegations of police brutality or police indifference to gang violence in Mathare resonate.

In May, Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) issued a report documenting dozens of extrajudicial killings by police over the past two years. The centre says that there has been a “normalization” of those killings, as entrenched impunity continues. In the report, MSJC states: “We are tired of being told that we are liars, that we exaggerate the number of people killed every day, and that these victims were nothing but thieves.”

Again, this week people in Mathare have been told they are not credible.

Police and government officials need to urgently work to establish a more conducive environment for victims to come forward and report crime and abuse. Police leadership and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) should work consistently and urgently to ensure accountability for any cases of killings, beatings, harassment and extortion by police in Mathare and elsewhere. It is no surprise that dismissing or rationalizing state-orchestrated violence in poor neighborhoods has only fueled resentment against the government.

Many Kenyans fear election-related violence. But residents in some areas often describe that their fear of police violence extends well beyond election time. What police do now in Mathare to investigate allegations of attacks, in these critical post-election weeks, should be under close scrutiny.

As MSJC points out, “it should not be illegal to be young and poor.” 

Reports of Post-Election Police Brutality

Kenya: Police Restraint Critical

(Nairobi) – Kenyan security forces should exercise restraint in the face of protests that take place in response to election results, Human Rights Watch said today. In any situations where security force personnel use force, they should take care to ensure that it is proportionate.

Late in the evening of August 11, 2017, Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner of the presidency in the August 8 election. The announcement prompted reports of protests in some opposition strongholds, particularly Kisumu, parts of Nairobi, and Mombasa. 

“With growing reports of demonstrations and heavy gunfire in some areas, it is important for security forces to work to deescalate – not escalate – the violence,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The police should not use teargas or live ammunition simply because they consider a gathering unlawful.”

Three of Kenya’s previous four general elections were marred by violence, including the 2007-2008 election, when 1,100 people were killed and 650,000 displaced. 

As a riot-control method, teargas should be used only when necessary as a proportionate response to quell violence. It should not be used in a confined space, and canisters should not be fired directly at anyone. International guidelines, such as the United Nations Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, stipulate that the police are expected to use discretion in crowd control tactics to ensure a proportionate response to any threat of violence, and to avoid exacerbating the situation.

Kenyatta Declared President in Kenya

History Made in Kenya's Elections

While the results of the presidential election are not yet clear, Ijara constituency made history by electing Sophia Abdi Noor to parliament. She will be the first woman since Kenya’s independence to hold elective office from Northeastern Kenya – for a post not specifically representing women.

No Money for Voter Education?

Civil society leaders in Kenya’s Coast region are concerned there has been far less voter education in this election than in previous polls, including by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). “They [the IEBC] are not really visible,” said Yusuf Mwatsefu, executive director at the Human Rights Agenda (HURIA). “There’s not as much voter education in Mombasa this time around.”

A Kenyan woman casts her vote at a mock polling station during a pre-election exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya, June 12, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Funding for voter education allows organizations to teach voters how to vote, as well as the basic laws of voting, and the roles and responsibilities of elected officials. Ideally, these programs can reduce incidences of spoilt ballots, voter manipulation, and electoral malpractice at polling stations. The IEBC has been a major recipient of such funding in the past, but Coast Regional Coordinator Amina Soud agrees that their programs for 2017 are under-resourced.

Civil society officials attribute the reduction in voter education funds to escalating state threats and intimidation of civil society that forced some local and international donor organizations to scale back their work. In a January 2017 press release, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) alleged that the government of Kenya regularly harassed and intimidated civil society organizations through the NGO Coordination board. The FIDH argued the board was responsible for a smear campaign against the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a key partner in the Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu (“My Vote, My Voice”) election campaign initiative by a coalition of civil society groups. 

The civil society leaders we spoke to pointed to a cycle of intimidation that undermined civic education initiatives more generally, and voter education in particular. Francis Auma at Haki Africa said that there was less donor funding available for elections work in 2017 than in previous cycles. There was a little more money [for this work] in 2013,” said Hassan Abdille, executive director at Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI).

On their part, the IEBC coast office agrees they have not been able to carry out voter education work to the extent that they would like to. Amina Soud, IEBC Regional Coordinator at the Coast, told us that their education initiatives countrywide didn’t begin until June 30.

Mohammed Baroh from the Kwale Human Rights Network said the IEBC programs started too late. “Civic education should be a continuous process,” he said, “but it hasn’t been done…. Why allocate funds for something if you aren’t going to do it?”

Soud said the IEBC was committed to reaching the entire region by election day, but the civil society leaders remain unsure that sufficient time and resources remain. An extraordinary effort from the commission and its partners is needed in these last few days to make this ambition a reality. 

Investigate Electoral Official’s Killing

Chris Msando, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) acting Director for the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), at the commission's headquarters in Nairobi, July 6, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

(Nairobi) – Kenyan authorities should urgently investigate the abduction and killing of a high-level official of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Human Rights Watch said today. A family member said police had taken the body of Christopher Chege Msando, the commission’s acting information and communications technology director, to Nairobi’s City Mortuary but failed to notify the family.

“The killing of Christopher Msando is catastrophic for his family and for the country’s preparations for election day on August 8,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Authorities should do everything possible to investigate and ensure that those responsible for his murder are held to account.”

Read the full statement here

“When Women Run”

A Kenyan woman casts her vote at a mock polling station during a pre-election exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya, June 12, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

Patriarchy falls particularly hard on women running for office in Turkana, Kenya’s largest and poorest county. Turkana has never elected a woman over a man in any position and 2017 may not be different. Even when women are running against each other for affirmative action seats they face obstacles that male candidates do not. Many of these incidents may not amount to criminal acts but they destabilize the momentum of women’s candidacy and infringe on their rights. Jecinta Abenyo, running for Women’s Representative at the National Assembly as an independent candidate in Turkana County, tells us about some of these challenges:

“The women’s representative position is very competitive. My relationship with the other candidates is not good. There are so many insults – it’s like we are all competing for the attention of the boss. We independent candidates get along better than the ones in parties but it’s still hard.

Married women always say, “I am a complete woman” when they are campaigning. I’m a single mother. They tell women not to vote for me because I am not married. They do this at the chama [round robin savings club] meetings. But usually someone will call me and tell me what is said because we all have our agents on the ground.

It doesn’t matter too much to me when they say things like this because so many women in Turkana are single mothers, and many are not single mothers by choice. So many of us are widows. Are you a widow by choice? Are you abandoned by choice? So why should a person who is coming to seek your vote despise you for being a single mother?

Women are despised in this patriarchal society. We are less competitive, especially against men. Even women voters still prefer to vote for men. If a man came into this women’s representative race, all the women would vote for him! Turkana has never elected a woman [over a man]. All the women are nominated and I don’t expect any of the women running against men to go through.

If you’re going into politics, get ready to be abused. Any position you vie for as a woman leads people to ask questions about your social life. Have you been drinking? Have you been smoking? But they never discuss the same of men.

A man is accepted the way he is as a leader, but when they meet with a woman they scrutinize her character”.

Kenya: Candidates Should Commit to Addressing Abuses

Kenya police officers on patrol in the coastal town of Lamu in June 2014 in the wake of a series of attacks in Lamu and Tana River counties. Kenyan security forces responded to the attacks with abusive operations targeting Muslims and ethnic Somali Kenyans in the two counties. © 2014 Reuters

Kenya will be holding general elections in August and the campaign is at its peak. Considering the gravity of security force abuses, justice and accountability should feature prominently in the candidates’ electoral commitments, including the president’s. But so far, we’ve only heard deafening silence. What the electorate deserve is a clear outline of how candidates plan to tackle the culture of impunity for the security forces that has caused and continues to cause devastating harm to so many Kenyans.

Read the full article here

Communities leaving Eldoret Ahead of August

A man walks through ruins of an area of Chepilat in the Rift Valley Province, February 2008. The burning of homes by Kalenjin men, forced residents of both the Kisii and the Kikuyu ethnic groups to flee. © 2008 Marcus Bleasdale/VII

Eldoret county was among the areas worst hit by the violence that followed disputed presidential election results in 2007. A 66-year-old woman from the Kikuyu ethnic group, and mother of six who is now a widow, recounts her experience of the violence, edited for clarity.

I am very fearful in this election. In 2007, there was no sign there would be violence. Today, I think there are signs.

In July 2011, my husband died of heart attack. I think this was brought about by the loss of our home, five-acre land and livestock during the violence in 2007.

At around 8 p.m. on December 29, 2007, our neighbor came to warn us that violence was rapidly approaching. There was a lot of noise. We quickly dressed up and left for safety. As I was driving, I came across a lot of people from my community running. They told me that the youth were torching houses.

Other young men from the Kalenjin ethnic group had erected road blocks where they stopped and ransacked cars. They were mainly looking for the Kikuyu. The youth stopped my car. The youth hit and badly injured my son and husband by a sling.

I took my son and husband to Moi Referral Hospital in Eldoret. At the hospital, nurses would look at victim’s names and, depending on the ethnicity, would say: “Your president has rigged elections and says the job continues. Let it continue.” And they would refuse to treat them.

Along the way, I found many young men who had smeared faces with dark soil. I think they were armed but I was panicking and could not see clearly. They were inside a church. I think they were dropped by a lorry. They had burned down houses and food stores along the way. These are the young men who burned people inside Kiamba church.

Although they did not burn my house, only ferrying away my livestock, they were vicious at my neighbor’s place: they burned down everything, killed all livestock and ferried away dairy cows. The young men seemed to be looking for specific homes.

Although I remained in Eldoret with my eldest son after my husband relocated with other children, I have never gone back to our Eldoret home due to fear.

People are leaving Eldoret ahead of this election now. A friend who has rental houses told me that 20 of his tenants have left.

Here, the threats target mainly Kikuyu due to historical differences with the Kalenjin over land and also opposition supporting communities such as the Luo and Luhya.

Last April when candidates were receiving nomination certificates, one senior county leader here issued threats to non-Kalenjin communities. He said non-Kalenjin will to go back to their rural areas.

Other political leaders in the county have been issuing similar threats. That is why non-Kalenjin communities are leaving this area. No one has been arrested for issuing threats.

Presidential Debate Falls Short on Rights Discussion

Kenyan opposition leader and presidential candidate Raila Odinga, attends a presidential Debate ahead of the general election in Nairobi, Kenya, July 24, 2017.   © 2017 REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

This week’s much-anticipated Kenya presidential debate felt distinctly anticlimactic.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, together with three other candidates, failed to show up so the leading opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, “debated” alone.

Many human rights groups had hoped the debate would be a forum for Kenyatta to answer questions about his administration’s disregard for human rights issues since taking office in 2013 and hear the other candidates commit to do more. Unfortunately, the moderators did not ask Odinga any serious questions regarding Kenya’s human rights situation.

The only saving grace was one question in which one moderator, Joe Ageyo, sought clarification from Odinga about his recent remarks promising to implement the recommendations of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The Kenyatta administration has never implemented the report, which was submitted to him in 2013. The report, one of the outcomes of the peace deal that followed the disputed and violent 2007 presidential elections, documents long-standing rights violations in land ownership, political assassinations, marginalization of communities and lack of accountability. According to the law establishing the commission, the report, complete with an implementation plan, should have been adopted by parliament soon after Kenyatta received it. The responsible cabinet minister should then have published the report in an official Kenya gazette, and implementation should have started within six months.

But so far, none of that has happened and the authorities have given no reason for the failure to follow through. The Kenyatta administration failed to even present the report to parliament for adoption.

In a recent first-ever public comment by a senior government official on the report, Kenyatta’s deputy, William Ruto, criticized Odinga, saying that implementing the TJRC report would be a recipe for chaos, presumably because of the sensitive issues such as land the report addresses.

During the debate, Odinga seemed to lack a clear plan when asked how he would implement the report’s many recommendations. The starting point for the next government, which Odinga could easily have mentioned as he debated alone, is to present the report to parliament for adoption.

Three Coastal Counties Remain Under Curfew

Women look on as residents talk to police officers after an attack in Panda Nguo, Lamu County on the northern coast of Kenya July 11, 2014.  © 2014 Reuters

Earlier this month, three counties in eastern Kenya were placed under a 90-day curfew following a series of violent attacks allegedly carried out by the armed Islamist group Al Shabab. The July 8 order means that residents of Garissa, Tana River and Lamu counties are required to observe a dusk to dawn curfew (12 hours) until October 9 – which includes election day, August 8.

Questions are already being raised about the legality of the curfew. Kenya’s Public Order Act only permits a curfew that restricts movement to less than 10 hours of daylight for a maximum of 10 days, but for now, the extended curfew remains in place.

Although Al Shabab has allegedly been active in the Boni Forest area of Lamu county for several years, the severity and frequency of attacks has increased in recent weeks. In June, four pupils and four policemen died in an IED attack. On July 5, hundreds of Al Shabab fighters seized a police post in Pandanguo, killing two police officers and damaging a communications tower and other property. On July 7, attackers slit the throats of nine men in Jima Village, also in Lamu. On July 13, Permanent Secretary for Public Works Mariam El-Maawy was one of 6 people kidnapped by Al Shabab. At least three police officers were killed in the same attack, although a final death toll has not been made public. Kenya Defence Forces eventually freed Maawy, who was flown to Nairobi for treatment for a shoulder gunshot wound and other injuries.

Civil society leaders in the Coast region are concerned the curfew will have serious implications for participation in the election. Yusuf Mwatsefu, Executive Director at Human Rights Agenda (HURIA) said in an interview that the government is already in the process of relocating people from the Boni Forest area. These people risk not being able to vote, without a specific government effort to accommodate them. Such a plan would require allowing the displaced people to vote in specially – and newly – gazetted polling stations or establishing mobile polling stations. So far, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission remains adamant it will not provide mobile polling stations as the specific polling locations are determined by law.

After Maawy’s kidnapping, Coast Regional Police Coordinator Nelson Marwa alleged in the media that Lamu politicians were funding al-Shabaab and subsequent attacks in the county in order to disrupt voting. He argued that only areas where voters supported the ruling Jubilee Coalition in 2013 were attacked, suggesting that the attacks were part of a ploy to decrease voter turnout in those regions. Media reports indicate that in the same statement, Marwa allegedly issued an unlawful “shoot-to-kill” order for “any terrorists found in the county.”

In 2014, residents of Lamu endured a similar curfew for more than a year in response to Al Shabab’s deadly Mpeketoni attacks in which more than 60 people died. The curfew was initially supposed to last one month, but was extended by five months. During the curfew period, human rights groups including Human Rights Watch documented abuses against civilians by members of the armed forces and the police.

The Law Society of Kenya challenged the extension and the high court eventually ruled the extension unlawful.

While civil society groups active along the coast are generally in favor of enhanced security measures to protect people from Al-Shabab, they urge the government to avoid repeating human rights abuses by security forces perpetrated in 2014 and ensure that all voters have access to polling stations on August 8.

Address discrimination against women in Kenya elections

Elections need women - voters & candidates.

“I am a leader, but I was forced to quit”

Posters of candidates running for political offices in the upcoming Kenya elections displayed on a building in Mombasa town. © 2017 Human Rights Watch

In a country where women are routinely denied the ability to own and control their own finances, running for political office in Kenya is tough. And money isn’t a guarantee a woman candidate will be able to win over a patriarchal society. At the start of a painful drought in Kenya last year, Rosemary (name changed to protect her privacy), a young community organizer, decided to run for Member of the County Assembly (MCA). Human Rights Watch spoke to her in Mombasa about the challenges she faced as a young, unmarried woman, and about the threats and resource constraints that forced her to end her campaign. Rosemary’s account is edited for clarity:

I am a leader. I was the head girl in primary school and I was the music captain. In secondary school, I was games captain. I was the chairlady in Christian union group. I am also bright – I was number one in class. Now, I help school dropouts, when girls get pregnant I help them keep their partners accountable. I also work with 90 young mothers and do advocacy to help girls protect themselves from underage pregnancy.

Our area is inland. We only have small trees and it’s very dry and dusty. People are living in poverty, farming and cutting trees for charcoal which makes it hotter.

Last year, we had a bad drought. People had no water. I have my own tap on my compound so I would fill jerry cans and give water to others. I would wait for a car heading to areas without water and then I would send it along with some water. It was a lot of work.

Eventually, I called the county government, asking them to provide water for the people. The County Commissioner wouldn’t speak to me. He asked: “Who are you?” and I said, “I am Rosemary, a community activist.” He wouldn’t talk to me. He said that the local MCA needed to call him and that I had no right to call him directly, then he hung up.

But I wouldn’t give up. I kept calling – borrowing other people’s phones – until eventually he gave up and sent us a tanker of water.

That was when I decided to run for office. I launched my manifesto in April 2016. The priorities in my manifesto were water, education, health and participation for all. People really liked the idea of participation. I promised that I would invite everyone to community meetings so that everyone would have a say. Over 1,500 people came to my first rally even though I had only planned on 200. We ran out of food. I paid for the rally myself.

You can’t campaign without money. Even a grassroots campaign is expensive.

At the end of meetings, I would say goodbye, and the people would ask, “How are you leaving us? “They mean that I should give them a “sitting allowance” – money for coming to the meeting. Without that, they say: “just go, your words are empty.”

Transport by boda boda (motorcycle taxi) is 1,000 KES (USD 10) for the day. Then for each meeting you have to leave 4,000 or 5,000 KES (USD 40 to 50) minimum. Even if I use 10,000 KES (USD 100) a week would use up my money fast. I began to wonder how I would manage my life after the election, especially if I didn’t win.

Money is especially a big problem for women candidates. We have no networks, no big business. There were three women in the race when we started – only one is still running – she is not campaigning because she has no money. She is just registered and hoping for miracle. One woman candidate was running against the incumbent in the primaries, but she could not get money to transport her supporters. She lost in the primaries because she couldn’t get enough of her supporters to the polling station. There was a bus all the candidates in the primary were supposed to share, but they would ask everyone who they were voting for before allowing them on the bus. If you said you were going to vote for her, they would kick you off the bus. If you said you were going to vote for the incumbent, they allowed you on and gave you 200 KES (USD 2).

Security is also a problem – for example as a woman I don’t want to walk around at night. I got threats on the phone and on my Facebook account. “OK, Rosemary, drop this thing or else you know who we are,” they said, and “watch out for your life.” They also threatened me because I am a single woman with a baby. One said: “Go and get married and then come and ask for votes.” I reported to the police but they did nothing. You have to pay them to investigate in my town.

One day, someone dug up the waterpipe to my house, cutting off our water. I thought to myself: I don’t have to lose my life because I love my community. I started to think I could still help the community without winning an election.

When my boyfriend realized I was serious about politics, he dumped me. That was a big blow for me, I lost him and my money, I was emotionally down. That is when I decided to quit.

Still, in 2022, whether I am married or not, I will run again. I am going to start a business and get money to run; friends will support me. I have everything to be a leader.

Insecurity, ‘negotiated democracy’ challenge to elections in Mandera

Civilians in Elwak town, in Mandera county show their injuries during a brutal operation by police and military in 2008. © 2008 Privado

Clan elders in northeastern Kenya are promoting so-called “negotiated democracy” as a way of bringing peace and unity ahead of the August polls. But for many, handing power to elders to choose preferred candidates limits choice and, some fear, could lead to conflict between clans.

“This concept of ‘negotiated democracy’ that is being propagated in Mandera by clan elders deprives voters of the right to choose their preferred candidates,” a human rights activist from Mandera told Human Rights Watch recently.

As the August election nears, the region’s insecurity limits scrutiny from either domestic or international election observers in Mandera, home predominantly to members of Kenya’s Somali community. Attacks by the armed Islamist group Al-Shabab have increased. Authorities have often responded to such attacks with abusive law enforcement operations leaving the community victimized by both Al-Shabab and government forces.

After negotiations in 2016, the elders of the Garre clan – the single largest clan in Mandera which also occupies most of the county elective positions – directed all its current elected leaders from Mandera county not to seek reelection in the 2017 polls. The elders endorsed new candidates to replace them, leaving only a few slots to smaller clans. The council of elders argue rotating the elective posts between their different sub-clans brings fairness and is a way of ensuring peace and unity among Garre sub-clans.

This process of pre-selection by the elders is dubbed “negotiated democracy.” Some of the other clans have followed suit and endorsed candidates for the remaining elective seats.

International human rights law guarantees the right of individuals to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections based on equal suffrage that guarantees the free expression of the will of the electors. It also promotes the access on general terms of equality to public service.

The idea of ‘negotiated democracy’ tends to work against the inclusion of marginalized clans into the political matrix and limits the ability of individuals in Mandera to choose their preferred candidates. And, due to the massive influence the clan elders have in the society, it makes it very hard for the unselected candidates to compete.

But the most obvious flaw here is that the council of elders are all men – meaning all decisions regarding candidates to support exclude the views of women. “It is only men sitting at the table negotiating how to promote their fellow men, and how to marginalize women from this county. This is against the spirit of equality and fair representation, it is unacceptable,” Sadia, a gender activist from Mandera told us.

Mandera has a history of interclan conflict. Some residents are worried with the current ‘negotiated democracy’ in place, tension between clans could resurface in the upcoming elections, especially in Mandera north constituency.
The government should protect people in Mandera from attacks, ensure that the security forces operate lawfully, and deliver free and fair elections. The government should also ensure everyone can vote freely without fear, and that anyone interested in running for office can participate – even without the approval of the clans.

22 polling centers in Baringo inaccessible – Government Official


Baringo county in the Rift Valley region has been plagued by cattle raids and other insecurity that may threaten residents’ ability to vote in August. Despite a heavy presence of security officers, some residents have been killed in recent clashes. Potential voters have been displaced and some polling centers are set to be located in areas that may be inaccessible because of insecurity.

Baringo South constituency borders Nakuru county to the south, Laikipia county to the east, Baringo Central to the west and Baringo east to the north i.e Tiaty constituency, which has people predominantly from the Pokot community. Baringo South has three main ethnic groups – the Kikuyu, Turkana and Kalenjin. The constituency also has other ethnic groups such as the Enderois, Ilchamus, Luo and the Njemp among others.

A government chief in Baringo South constituency, who is displaced and lost property, shares his personal account with Human Rights Watch, edited for clarity:

Here in Baringo South, about 90 percent of the population is registered to vote but there are also some young men who are yet to be registered.

We cannot say there is political hostility ahead of August elections. But security is the biggest challenge because many people, including those who live in my location, have been displaced. Every day now, I have to walk to provide government services to them. I am just back now, walking for the last 20 kilometers looking for my people who are displaced and scattered by the violence here. I am very tired. I too am one of those who are displaced.

The main security problem here is cattle rustling. The herders have been raiding homes and villages, killing people and taking cattle away, partly to recoup livestock killed by Kenyan security officers. Since 2015, at least 30 people have been killed in Arabal location and Mochongoi location, which have been the worst affected by the raids. People have been killed in other areas too.

In Mukutane location, everyone has been displaced and we fear no one is going to vote at all. The majority are either living in makeshift homes or have been taken in by relatives. In Arabal location also we fear no one may vote. They have all been scattered to three separate counties. The other affected location is Mochongoi. Three villages in Mochongoi location have been heavily affected. Those who have been displaced here are not in camps but are integrated among relatives. Chebinyiny location is also heavily affected. Here everyone has been displaced and they are not likely to vote.

Due to violence, all 22 primary schools and 3 secondary schools in these four locations are shut down and children are not going to school. The schools are supposed to serve as the registered polling centers. Security deployment in this area is heavy – we have police, the military and National Police Reserves here.

In total, police and the military have up to 10 camps. We are left wondering what the problem is – why can the government not stop the violence around us? If the government cannot secure the area, then there is no doubt that most people here, including myself, are not going to vote in August.

“I will leave Naivasha because of threats, lack of police protection”

During the 2007-2008 post-election violence, Naivasha area, Nakuru county, in the Rift Valley region was among the hardest hit. Human Rights Watch recently talked to a 37-year-old mother of two who survived the violence in Naivasha ten years ago about her concerns for the August elections. This is her own account, edited for clarity:

Each time an election approaches, like now, the memories come back. I was a resident of Kinamba, Naivasha, when violence broke out in December 2007. We started hearing of violence in Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret and Mombasa, but violence in Naivasha only started later in January 2008.

Ethnic clashes in Naivasha town, 60 km (37 miles) from the capital Nairobi, January 28, 2008. Violence erupted in Naivasha following a widely disputed presidential election.    © 2008 Reuters

A group of young men armed with machetes and batons blocked the main Nairobi- Kisumu highway, flagging vehicles down, flushing occupants out and beating or killing them depending on their ethnic group. Later at night young men moved from house to house in Naivasha neighborhoods, including Kinamba, destroying property, raping women, and killing.

The young men destroyed my property and burned my house. I saw my neighbors raped in front of their children. A neighbor spent two nights locked in her house with her dead husband and son because she was terrified to get out. I was chased from my house and went to seek refuge at a police station. It was horrifying.

My husband refused to come back to Naivasha because of what happened in 2007. He is now a farmer in our home village in Siaya county, western Kenya, but I chose to return to continue my clothing boutique business because that is what gives us school fees for our children.

The government has assured us that there will be peace this time, but you can never be sure. In 2007, no one ever got to know who the young men who caused violence here were or where they came from. The young men who attacked my home had masks over their faces so you could not tell who they were.

The situation now is different because there is a lot of tension here and some of our colleagues thought to support the opposition have already received threats. The threats are again coming from a group of young men.

We don’t see police doing anything to stop these threats. This is why most people are already packing and leaving. I am just waiting for schools to close end of July and I will also leave this place. I cannot be here in August for elections.

I lost a lot in 2007, but I have never been compensated. We hear people are being compensated but some of us have never received anything. I have personally registered my name for compensation four times. The only thing we have been told is that we should wait.

We are very fearful. We are not sure whether we can keep our shop operational in this election period. From what I experienced in 2007, I will have to close the shop. I cannot take chances. 

Tensions Simmer in Kenya’s Largest County

The tense primary season in Turkana, Kenya’s largest county, has left residents nervous about the potential for violence during the August election. These fears are fueled by allegations of increased gun ownership by local politicians and elites operating outside established norms on gun use.

Turkana men walk with their rifles near Baragoy, Kenya, January 31, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters

Gun ownership is common in Turkana among pastoralists in rural communities. Many of those owning these guns are Kenya Police Reservists – people authorized to shoot and possibly kill while defending kraals (homesteads) from hostile neighboring communities. However, a local activist told us that during a recent recruitment and registration drive by the Kenya Police Reservists, several prominent politicians and business owners were amongst those seeking to legally register weapons.

This shift in use is contributing to a sense of heightened insecurity in urban areas of Turkana. On June 1 Daudi Edoki, 25, was shot at point blank range and killed during a rally in Katilu town, Turkana South. Police are still investigating the case, but witnesses told us Edoki was in the crowd, allegedly receiving money from a local politician. When he openly expressed support for an opposing candidate, an assailant shot him at point blank range. The gunshot triggered a panic and some others shot their guns, injuring at least 3 people who were admitted to Lodwar district hospital.

Last October, two daughters of current Kalokol Member of the County Assembly Josphat Ekeno were shot during an armed ambush at the politician’s home. The elder daughter was treated for minor injuries and an 8 year-old child was admitted at Eldoret referral hospital with a bullet lodged in her chest. In February, several youths allegedly shot their guns during an opposition primary rally in Katilia, disrupting the meeting. No one was killed during this incident although several people were injured.

The chaotic primaries earlier this year in Turkana suggest the 2017 election may be among the most hotly contested in the region’s history. Local human rights defenders worry that the proliferation of weapons could increase the potential for volatility. “Elections in Turkana have always been peaceful,” one human rights defender told us, “but if we fight in Turkana it will be the worst fight, because of the guns.” There is so far little sign of the authorities responding to this risk.

Justice Lacking for Victims of Kenya’s Post-Election Violence

Wairimu V., 65, was raped by a group of men at an IDP camp. Her husband blames her for the rape, and beats and verbally abuses her including in the presence of their children. She would like to leave her abusive husband but is worried that she will not be able to support herself. She has such severe pain in her leg, lower abdomen and back that she has to take pain killers daily; she also has vaginal bleeding and hypertension. Many sexual violence survivors are still in urgent need of medical treatment and psycho-social support.  © 2015 Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch

Wamuyu told me how she was brutally gang-raped by three men in Busia, western Kenya, during the violence that engulfed Kenya following the disputed presidential election in December 2007. Her husband was murdered in the violence, she says, and her home destroyed. Wamuyu described the physical impact of the rape to me: “My uterus [had to be] removed. My back was damaged, my legs were broken, and I had to walk with crutches for almost three years.”

When I interviewed her in 2014, she still walked with the aid of a stick and could not do any hard work. She was hungry and had no money to treat the hypertension and ulcers she says developed as a result of stress from the rape. As far as she knew, no real investigation of the crimes committed against her and her family had been conducted and no-one had been held accountable.

Wamuyu’s story is not unique: almost all the women I interviewed who had been raped during the 2007-2008 political violence had similar tales to tell.

More than two years ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the establishment of a fund of 10 billion Kenyan Shillings to help victims of past injustices, including victims of the 2007 political violence. To date, the government has not developed a plan of how the fund would be implemented, and victims have still not received financial assistance, medical care, or counselling.

Parliament still hasn’t adopted the report of the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) established by Kenya to help heal historical grievances dating from well before the 2007 election violence. The report also proposes reparations for victims.

Despite these setbacks, victims like Wamuyu have refused to give up their struggle for justice. Today, just a month before Kenya heads to the polls again, close to a hundred survivors, together with representatives of civil society groups, are meeting in Nairobi to press for the implementation of the TJRC report. They are demanding a response from political parties and candidates on how they will take forward the issue of reparations if elected. Their message is clear: Kenya cannot truly move forward without justice for victims, including the payment of reparations. All Kenyans should stand in solidarity with them. 

Rift Valley Violence Threatens Voting

Ongoing violence in the Rift Valley is causing insecurity and forced displacement that could potentially keep thousands of people from voting in the August 2017 national elections. Kenyan authorities should urgently investigate violence in Baringo and Laikipia counties, ensure that law enforcement operations are lawful, and take all reasonable steps to ensure protection for residents. The Electoral Commission should ensure that polling places remain accessible and operate in safe areas so voting can proceed.

Read Human Rights Watch's press release here.

Lecturers and Nurses Strike

Kenyan nurses march holding banners as they take part in a protest in Nairobi, Kenya, June 12, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

Although the front pages of local newspapers are dominated by political news these days, Kenya’s election occurs in the shadow of two major labor strikes. Nurses at public hospitals have been on strike since June, while university lecturers walked off work on July 3 – just four months since the end of a 100-day doctors’ strike that paralyzed all public hospitals earlier this year.

These strikes have significant impact on the right to health and education in Kenya. In June, an anonymous doctor at the Coast General Hospital told Reuters the hospital would only treat serious cases until the issue was resolved. Similarly, students say the university strike has made it impossible for them to adequately prepare for upcoming exams. Yet the right to strike is of “utmost importance” in democratic societies, and Kenya’s unions do have substantive grievances against the government.

Labor unions representing nurses and lecturers insist they only went on strike after the government failed to implement an agreement on increased salaries and better working conditions. The government argues it needs time, and will implement the worker’s demands over a two-year period. Having waited more than four years before agreeing to a timetable for the implementation of a similar agreement with doctors, unions are skeptical of the government and insist they will remain on strike until the entire agreement is implemented.

As the campaign heats up, the government must prioritize resolution of these strikes so Kenyans do not lose access to essential rights and services, while respecting the rights of workers to withhold their labor. 

Kicking off the debate on integrity in Kenya

Can Kenya codify “integrity”? That question is at the heart of a vigorous debate in Kenya, one sparked by suggestions that at least 20 people running for election in the August polls may be in violation of constitutional requirements of “integrity.”

Red Card Kenya, comprised of four Kenyan civil society groups, started the debate with a report naming 20 candidates who they allege may not be fit for office by virtue of violating Chapter 6 of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity.

Chapter 6 vaguely stipulates what “a leader with integrity” is, and outlines standards, including conduct, financial probity and other responsibilities. While many support these provisions in general, a heated debate has broken out over the question of whether “integrity” is an appropriate bar for candidates, if so, how precisely it should be legally defined and practically applied.

The conduct flagged by Red Card Kenya is very serious, ranging from criminal charges of robbery and rape, to mismanagement and embezzlement of funds, to incitement to violence through hate speech.

As a basic human right, in principle, every interested and eligible adult citizen should be able to stand for election. Any exclusion of any individual from an election must be set out clearly in law, based on objective criteria and used only in the most serious of cases. Anyone banned should have a right to appeal decisions, otherwise the power to ban a candidate could become arbitrary or politically-motivated.

Article 19(1) of Kenya’s Constitution states that the purpose of recognising and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is to preserve the dignity of the individual and communities and to promote social justice and the realization of the potential of all human beings. Chapter 6 was therefore supposed to signal a shift in Kenyan politics towards greater respect for the dignity for citizens. Protecting and preserving the human rights and dignity of the citizens should begin with the leaders who have been entrusted to hold public office on their behalf.

To date Kenya’ Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) – which oversees elections – has been silent on Red Card’s criticisms. As the final arbiter of electoral eligibility and one of the core constitutional institutions established to protect the constitution, the IEBC should explain how it is applying the constitutional requirement of “integrity” as it determines eligibility.

At the same time, accountability is not only a matter for the ballot box. Accountability for the alleged crimes and abuses Red Card raises should be matters for the courts to efficiently handle, both before and after election day.

Nairobi Gubernatorial Candidates Square Off

Nairobi gubernatorial candidates engaged in a heated debate on July 3 that generated a great deal of heat but not much light. Much of the debate focused on trading allegations of corruption, sometimes descending to personal insults.

However, every candidate also made reference to allegations of routine, violent harassment and extortion of petty traders by officers of the County Council colloquially known as “kanjo.” In 2016 the Kenyan investigative journalism site, Africa Uncensored, documented what they said was a vast extortion racket, enforced through violent arrests, overseen by several kanjo officers in an exposé dubbed “Kanjo Kingdom”. The series alleged that the central council administration is not only aware of these abuses, including of traders with physical disabilities, but is reluctant to rein in the syndicate that perpetrate these crimes.

This violence was perhaps the only human rights issue directly addressed in the gubernatorial debate, but the fact that every candidate was forced to respond underscores that independent, courageous journalism plays a critical role in framing discussions during the election period. 

Intimidation Reports as Voting Nears

(Nairobi) – Kenyan authorities should urgently investigate allegations of threats and intimidation between community members in Nakuru county’s Naivasha area, as the August, 2017 elections approaches, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch interviewed opposition and ruling party supporters, victims of threats and intimidation, a national government official, and human rights activists about the campaigns and their concerns in advance of the presidential and general elections. Many people in the town of Naivasha described threats and intimidation between community members, but said that police have failed to investigate the threats, prosecute the culprits or protect residents. Naivasha was among the areas with the worst 2007-2008 post-election violence, in which inter-ethnic rivalries over land and power, stoked by politicians, left over 1,100 people dead.

Read the full presser here:

A Hungry Election

An employee restocks packet of maize flour subsidized by government at a supermarket in Nairobi, Kenya May 24, 2017.  © REUTERS/Baz Ratner

“You say you saw maize flour at 90 Kenyan shillings (90 cents USD) on television? Go and buy that maize from the television.”

Rachel, a community organizer in Mathare, a Nairobi slum, laughs as she remembers this response from a local trader when she tried to buy maize flour – unga in Kiswahili – at the subsidized prices the government promised in May. The subsidies aimed to reduce the price of one of Kenya’s main food staples that have skyrocketed since January. But subsidies were paid to the millers, and not the vendors directly, and the vendors were only instructed to lower prices. Many vendors have simply refused to sell at the government price, leaving voters hungry and frustrated in the build up to the August election.

Rachel worries that spiraling food prices are leaving young people vulnerable to local politicians’ manipulations. “The only jobs available in Mathare nowadays are with the campaigns,” she said. Here, “working with a campaign”’ can be as benign as putting up posters - or as nefarious as joining a militia group. In Mathare, she says, for as little as 200 Kenyan shillings ($2) a day, unemployed young people are sometimes paid to disrupt opponents’ rallies, deface posters, and intimidate opponents’ supporters. Hunger in the context of a hotly contested election doesn’t bode well for Mathare and other urban informal settlements.

The Famine Early Warning Network is reporting “atypical food security risks” in Kenya in 2017, and that more than 60 percent of the country will be at risk of famine from June to September – the election period. In some of the affected areas, deadly clashes over access to food and grazing land have already occurred. Some of the herders involved in ongoing land invasions in Laikipia in which tens have died have said that they are driven by the ongoing drought.

Traders in Lodwar, northwestern Kenya, told us that unga has completely disappeared from the store shelves. As the drought kicks in, many herders have moved to South Sudan and Uganda in search of pasture. Some young men without their own permanent herds have come from the parched countryside to town, hoping for work. But, yet again, one of the few ways to get food these days is with a political campaign.

Agriculture is the single largest sector of the Kenyan economy, and the government estimates it contributes to 24 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and more than 75 percent of the country’s population relies on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. Arguably, failure to properly implement food security projects constitutes a violation of a right to food in the context of such dependence. The Kenya government is obliged to work toward the progressive realization of the right to food and water “by all appropriate means” and “to the maximum of its available resources. As campaigns continue, hunger shouldn’t be manipulated to political advantage.

Looking at the Numbers in Kenya’s Elections

Millions more Kenyans will be eligible to vote in the August elections than in 2013.

More than 19.5 million are registered to vote – a 36 percent jump since the last election in 2013, according to an audit released by Kenya’s Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) this week.

Predictably, given Kenya’s demographic trends, the biggest group of voters is between 18 and 34 years old. It remains to be seen how this large cohort of young voters will impact the election result - particularly on the question of ethnicity. Will young Kenyans turn out to be less ethnically polarized than their parents?

Almost 4000 registered voters are in the diaspora.  At this point, only Kenyans in Uganda and Tanzania will be able to participate and the seats for legislative representatives for the diaspora all have a single candidate so the vote will not be competitive. But it is the first time in Kenyan history that people will be able to vote from outside the country.

This is also the first time in Kenya’s history prisoners will be able to vote in a general election. 5,528 voters across 118 prisons in the country registered to vote, a major victory for prisoner’s rights advocates in the country.

In Charles Hornsby’s article, published today in The Elephant, he looks at Kenya’s  “tyranny of numbers” in elections. He concludes “whatever the final outcome, it is clear that Kenya remains polarised and dangerously divided, almost down the middle, and that there is little trust or goodwill between the two major parties to work with each other in whatever political settlement that will follow the August elections.”

Kenyan Journalist Detained Over Story

The recent arrest of Sunday Nation journalist Walter Menya is again raising questions about media freedom as the August elections approach.

Some facts in the case are uncontested. On Sunday June 18, police officers from Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) arrested Menya and held him at an undisclosed location. A judge allowed police to detain him for two days pending further investigations; Menya was released on June 20 without charge. 

But the rest of the story is less clear. The Nation Media Group, Menya’s employer, argues his arrest stemmed from an article he wrote describing the involvement of some civil servants in the Friends of Jubilee Foundation, an organization that purports to work to alleviate poverty, but also is raising money for Kenya’s ruling party’s re-election bid. Menya’s story suggested that their open association with the foundation may amount to publicly endorsing a political candidate, a constitutional offence in Kenya, where state officers are prohibited from participating in partisan politics.

It’s unclear what Menya did wrong given he wasn’t actually charged with a crime. The affidavit submitted by police in support of his detention argues that he demanded 50,000 shillings (about $500) from an informant to publish the story. The affidavit alleged that officers caught Menya in the process of receiving a portion of the money. But after three days of investigation, police provided no clear evidence of wrongdoing.

The Kenya Union of Journalists argues that authorities are trying to discredit journalists like Menya, and his arrest was intended to intimidate and discourage investigative reporting around the election. The Nation Media Group has also raised concerns that photos on social media showing Menya in handcuffs at the DCI headquarters – a protected area where photography is prohibited – were circulated illegally with the intent to humiliate him.

As highlighted in Human Rights Watch’s  May report “Not Worth the Risk,” Kenyan government officials and police have increasingly undermined and violated rights of journalists in recent years. The report found that police are part of a system of state-orchestrated intimidation of journalists designed to discourage them from publishing stories that are overly critical of the state. Judicial processes and short-term detention without charge has been used previously to bully and silence journalists covering political stories. Because of this, Kenya heads into the 2017 election with a press whose freedom is in serious peril, where journalists are – understandably – reluctant to risk their lives or their liberty to tell stories that matter.

An election without a free press is an election at risk. Attacks on the press undermine the integrity of both the press and the state, and compel voters to seek information elsewhere, including from untrustworthy sources.  

Space for Marginalized Groups in Kenya Election?

Once again, marginalized groups in Kenya are being left at the margins of another election cycle.

A Kenyan woman casts her vote at a mock polling station during a pre-election exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya, June 12, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

Despite guarantees in Kenya’s Constitution, not enough is being done to ensure that marginalized groups - women, people with disabilities, youth and representatives of smaller communities – fully participate in the August election.

Although Kenya is socially and politically diverse, ethnic identity is the main basis of political representation. Constituencies or counties roughly correspond to historic homelands of large ethnic groups that tend to dominate politically. This makes it difficult for ethnic minority groups to access political power and defend their socio-political rights.

The Kenya Constitution defines marginalized groups in a broad sense that reflects the many ways in which groups have historically been excluded from politics, and prescribes various levels of affirmative action to address that. Women, people with disabilities, youth and representatives of smaller communities are entitled to additional political support in this framework. Kenya has also adopted international treaties protecting the rights of historically marginalized groups, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

But representatives from rights groups argue that not enough is being done to implement these protections for the upcoming elections. In May 2017, United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK), an umbrella group for people with disabilities, said several barriers still exist to full participation in the election for the estimated six million persons with disabilities.

 “We do not have books, for instance, in braille. Even organizations that have taken up voter education tend to forget [people with disabilities].” said David Towett, Central Rift regional coordinator for the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), which oversees elections.

Women have also been historically marginalized in Kenyan politics and make up only 21% of the current legislature, in breach of the “two-thirds gender rule,” which holds that legislative bodies should not be comprised of more than two-thirds of one gender. According to some reports, out of the 11,330 candidates in the 2017 election, only 2,077 are women, many of who will be running against each other for positions as women’s representatives.

According to groups like UDPK and FIDA Kenya, a leading national women’s rights organization, more needs to be done to ensure full participation. For example, since voting often runs into the night, both women and people with disabilities are reluctant to wait in long lines for security reasons. These fears were borne out during the April primaries, where according to FIDA and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, individuals were subject to intimidation and violence at polling stations, including attempted rape.  

At the same time, 32 of the country’s 43 ethnic communities have fewer than 1 million people. Many smaller groups are pastoralists and struggle to access polling stations and election material. In February 2017, representatives from pastoralist communities insisted they needed more time to register to vote, not only because of difficulty in accessing the polls, but because the ongoing drought had pushed voting further down their priority list as people struggled to find food.

According to a 2012 Minority Rights Group International report, lack of political power has severe consequences for smaller ethnic groups in Kenya, including the forced eviction of groups from traditional homelands and a reluctance to seek redress from state institutions. This in turn fuels clashes over pasture land and access to water in parts of the country. The under-representation of women and people with disabilities in parliament creates room for the passage of discriminatory laws.

Structural accommodations for marginalized groups are constitutionally mandated and absolutely necessary for a free and fair election. The IEBC should take specific measures to integrate the needs of such groups, and to protect the right of every Kenyan citizen to participate in the election. 

Gender Discrimination in Kenya Elections

Kenya’s 2010 Constitution introduced designated parliamentary seats for women. During the 2013 elections, more women candidates than ever threw their hats in the ring. That helped get more women nominated and elected than ever before, but the change went only so far – women represented just 19 percent of parliament, well short of the constitutional minimum of 30 percent. And none of the 19 women candidates seeking senate and gubernatorial positions were elected. Of the 1,450 people elected to county assemblies, only 88 were women.

In this piece, Beatrice Alaka from the University of Johannesburg argues that political parties should do more to end the ongoing discrimination and violence directed at female candidates in Kenya.

Ballots to Bullets, Remembering the Roots of the 2007 Violence

In the wake of 2007 elections, Human Rights Watch published Ballots to Bullets, a report that documented the main patterns of organized political violence that engulfed the country that year. Two months of bloodshed left over 1,000 dead and up to 650,000 people displaced. Police use of excessive force against protestors, and ethnic-based killings and reprisals by supporters aligned to both the ruling and opposition parties marked the post-election period.

At the time, it was clear that the ethnic divisions laid bare in the aftermath of the 2007 elections had deep roots into Kenya’s history. No Kenyan government had yet made a good-faith effort to address long simmering grievances over land that persisted since independence. High-ranking politicians had consistently been implicated in organizing political violence since the 1990s but had never been brought to book and continued to operate with impunity. Widespread failures of governance at the core of the explosive anger were exposed in the wake of the election fraud. As elections approach in August, have the various reforms addressed the root causes of the violence?

The full Ballots to Bullets report can be accessed here: https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/kenya0308web.pdf

Journalist Allegedly Assaulted in Bungoma

On the evening of June 5, 2017, people believed to be security guards for senior officials of Bungoma county government allegedly physically assaulted Emmanuel Namisi, a reporter with Royal Media Group, at a club in Bungoma town. Kenyan newspapers reported that a team of security guards confronted Namisi, slapping and kicking him. The newspapers said the guards accused Namisi of airing a story that linked them to the fatal shooting of a woman on June 2. The woman, identified only as Kadogo, was killed when supporters of the ruling Jubilee party candidate, clashed with supporters of the opposition Ford Kenya party candidate. The governor told the media that he was saddened by the incident. He said: “I don't condone physical violence, I don't know what exactly provoked that but I have cautioned all my staff against such behavior.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the assault on Namisi. In its June 8 statement, CPJ urged Kenyan authorities to investigate the attack and ensure that those responsible are held to account.

The attack reinforces the findings of a May report by Human Rights Watch and Article 19 on threats to free expression ahead of the 2017 elections. According to the report, journalists who report on sensitive issues such as corruption, security, political parties, county governments and land are beaten, threatened, subjected to phone and online surveillance and, in some cases, arbitrarily arrested and detained. The report urges Kenyan authorities to ensure accountability for all cases of attacks and threats against journalists and bloggers ahead of the 2017 elections.

Upsurge in attacks threaten to suppress vote

An upsurge of suspected Al-Shabab attacks always raises serious concerns, but as Kenya prepares for elections on August 8, ongoing insecurity is likely to inhibit participation in the vote. The government’s seeming inability to prevent Al-Shabab violence may discourage people from holding or attending campaign rallies and participating on voting day.

Rather than investigate attacks and seek to proactively protect communities, Kenya has often responded with abusive law enforcement operations, including reprisals in neighborhoods where attacks occur. Given the importance of the campaign period, its more critical than ever for the authorities to act decisively and lawfully to protect people in Al-Shabab affected areas.

Read the full dispatch here

ICG report: Potential triggers for inter-ethnic violence in the Rift Valley

On May 30, 2017, the International Crisis Group released a report analyzing devolution and the possibilities for violence in the Rift Valley before, during and after the 2017 elections. The report flags competition for governorship positions as potential triggers for localized, inter-ethnic violence in the Rift Valley. The report identifies the collapse of peace building initiatives, government failure to address land-related grievances and other longstanding injustices as factors that could fuel violence between communities. Many of the concerns of unaddressed injustices that the report highlights are contained in the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) of May 2013 that the Uhuru Kenyatta administration has failed to implement.

Read the ICG report here


Attacks on Media Threaten Kenyan Elections

For Kenya’s August elections to be fair, the media needs to be able to report on pressing issues of national interest without fear of reprisals. As the United Nations Human Rights Committee has noted, “a free uncensored and unhindered press or other media is essential in any society to ensure freedom of opinion and expression and the enjoyment of other … rights. It constitutes one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.”

Read the full oped here


Interview: Crackdown on Media Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Vote

An anti-riot police officer aims a teargas canister while journalists cover an anti-corruption protest in Kenya's capital, Nairobi. November 3, 2016.  © 2016 REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya will hold presidential and general elections in August. Campaigns are a difficult time for Kenyans, who may associate voting with tension and chaos. They keenly remember how 2007 post-election violence split groups down ethnic lines and left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. Kenya’s media play a key role in reporting on election-related subjects critical to voters, like corruption, police brutality, and land acquisition. Yet Kenya’s journalists, already facing obstacles to their reporting, increasingly fear threats and physical attacks to silence them as the election nears. Kenya researcher Otsieno Namwaya speaks with Audrey Wabwire about the new Human Rights Watch report, “‘Not Worth the Risk’: Threats to Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections,” and what he learned, together with the media freedom group Article 19 Eastern Africa, when they talked to journalists and bloggers across the country.

Read the full interview here:

New Kenya Report: "Not Worth The Risk"

(Nairobi) – Authorities in Kenya have committed a range of abuses against journalists reporting on sensitive issues, threatening freedom of expression ahead of elections slated for August 8, 2017, Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa said in a report released today. Journalists and bloggers reporting on corruption, disputed land acquisition, counterterrorism operations, and the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence, among other sensitive issues, have faced intimidation, beatings, and job loss.

The 53-page report, “‘Not Worth The Risk’: Threats To Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections,” documents abuses by government officials, police, county governors, and other government officials against the media. Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 examined government attempts to obstruct critical journalists and bloggers with legal, administrative, and informal measures, including threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults.

Kenyan Authorities Should Ensure Free, Fair August Poll

Kenya's elections are scheduled for August 8, 2017. The campaigns begin next week, amid concerns of political and ethnic tension as well as the lack of accountability for current and past human rights abuses – all precursors to election-related violence since 1992. Kenyans will be voting for six positions – president, county governors, senators, members of parliament, women representatives, and members of county assembly – in the August election. Kenya has a history of political violence, but this time around, authorities should ensure a level playing field, free from abuse for voters and candidates. Read the press release here.

Kenya Elections Blog