(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 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.
“All Kenyans should be able to take part in free and fair elections in August without fear of violence,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kenyan authorities should do more to prevent a repeat of the 2007 bloodshed in Naivasha.”
Some real or perceived opposition supporters in Naivasha said that they have begun to pack up their belongings to flee the area out of fear of a return to ethnic conflict. As registered voters in Naivasha, they would not be able to vote in other parts of the country.
During the violence that followed the 2007 presidential election, more than 650,000 people were displaced across Kenya. Naivasha subcounty in Nakuru county was hit hard, with supporters of the then-ruling party beating, killing, and forcefully circumcising opposition party supporters. The 2007 attacks and killings were never adequately investigated or prosecuted. One woman in the town of Nakuru told Human Rights Watch, “When elections come, old wounds are revived and people turn on each other when politicians incite them.”
On June 10, 2017, Kenyan media reported that Maurice Muhatia, head of the Nakuru Catholic Diocese, had expressed alarm over the rate at which families were fleeing the county ahead of the August elections. “Some families are first transporting their children, then wife and personal effects to their rural areas ahead of the election,” he was quoted as saying. “We have vowed as Nakuru residents that we shall neither allow any form of violence in this county, nor go back to 2007.”
Human Rights Watch documented at least six incidents of direct threats against opposition supporters, with people from both sides of the political divide saying that such threats were increasingly prevalent. Eight opposition supporters said a group of young men in the Kinamba and Kihoto neighborhoods of Naivasha, who they said they believed were behind some of the 2007 violence, have repeatedly told them to stay away from polling places if they do not intend to vote for the ruling party.
Historically, politics in Kenya is largely ethnically driven, with voters rallying behind candidates from their ethnic group. Although Human Rights Watch did not hear that ruling party supporters were receiving threats or vacating opposition strongholds – for example in western Kenya and the coast region – some media reports have suggested there is tension between ruling party and opposition supporters in those areas.
Naivasha’s senior assistant county commissioner, Richard Aguoka, told Human Rights Watch that more security officers have been deployed in Naivasha and that the government had created peace committees to encourage communities to coexist peacefully. “We have put together a multi-agency security team comprising all armed services that is patrolling the area regularly and enforcing the law,” he said. “We also hold regular peace meetings and talk to elders from all communities. We just need political leaders to be responsible, because tension here is usually caused by reckless utterances by politicians.”
Aguoka denied that people were fleeing the area. He said that, while there have been unconfirmed reports of tension and fear in Naivasha, no one has left the area out of fear in recent months. He said the only departures he was aware of took place a year ago after opposition demonstrations. “The threats are a political tactic by local politicians and have nothing to do with the presidential elections,” he said. “It is caused by the fear of losing.”
The residents of the Kinamba, Kihoto, and Karagita neighborhoods who talked to Human Rights Watch appeared to doubt the ability of the peace committees and security forces to respond effectively or to contain the situation if violence erupts in August. The residents said that poor police-community relations and the limited number of police could undermine their ability to respond to violence.
A 34-year-old mother of two and a member of the peace committee in Kihoto, said that people are afraid of talking about the threats they face in the area. She said that they fear being targeted by gangs of youths from communities with opposing political views and lack confidence in the ability of police to protect them. “Police rarely respond effectively when people report these threats and this undermines the confidence of the people in them,” she said. “But police also need to improve their relations with communities so that people can feel free to report.”
A 27-year-old man in Kinamba said: “I will stay indoors on the voting day. There is no need to risk my life just to vote and yet police will not protect me.”
“Kenyan police should be investigating allegations of interethnic threats, and police accountability mechanisms, such as the Independent Police Oversight Authority, should be actively investigating allegations of discriminatory policing country-wide,” Namwaya said. “Showing that people can have confidence in the police could help to ensure that people feel they can vote without fear and reduce the risk of violence during and after the elections.”