Kenya Elections 2017

On August 8 Kenya votes in its fifth set of elections since the end of the one-party state in 1991. Three of the previous four elections were marred by violence, including the 2007-2008 election when 1,100 people were killed and 650,000 displaced. Party primaries in April were fraught with violence and rights abuses and public confidence in many of the institutions designed to alleviate these tensions is low. In the coming weeks, Human Rights Watch will provide updates on the election, focusing on critical rights issues including free expression, assembly and association, conduct of security forces and election related violence.

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:

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.

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. 

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.