Human rights watchdogs and the international community are monitoring the behavior of Kenya‘s police force and arguing that their actions during this election season are critical to causing or averting violence.
This year’s elections have been described as critical, and international actors are watching to see if Kenya has broken the pattern of post-election violence since 1992.
In 2017, protests in Kisumu were blamed for several deaths, including that of a six-month-old baby who was killed by police while chasing after protesters in their homes. Police have been heavily involved in areas considered potential hotspots including Nairobi, Kericho, Nakuru, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu and Mombasa.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has mapped the six counties most likely to see violence during the election. These have experienced violence in the past, triggered by hate speech, fake news and the non-acceptance of election results.
The US joins calls for peace and has urged Kenyans to seize the opportunity to showcase their democracy to the world if they make their voices heard in their elections.
“We are urging a peaceful and transparent democratic process, which is critical to providing all Kenyans with a more prosperous and secure future,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Wednesday.
The statement came hours after the US Embassy in Nairobi issued an alert imposing movement restrictions on its citizens and staff in Kisumu County over possible violence, for which it received plenty of flak.
It later clarified that it had no specific information about violence, but merely warned staff not to tour any of its outposts in the country at this time.
“Kisumu is home to a significant number of US Embassy employees and is a frequent travel destination for American citizens. The U.S. Department of State has had no greater responsibility than the safety of U.S. citizens abroad and routinely issues security alerts on elections, health conditions and extreme weather conditions to ensure U.S. citizens have information to help plan travel plans it in a statement from the embassy.
But human rights organizations say the police could influence events after the elections. Kenya’s National Commission for Human Rights (KNHCR) says past hard-fought elections are likely to see violence in front-runner strongholds as tensions rise over the results.
Despite government assurances that the elections will be peaceful, Kenya’s neighbors remain nervous, as they have at every election since 2007, when Ugandan and Rwandan traders lost $50 million worth of goods to vandalism and transport disruptions on the North Corridor.
Read: Northern Corridor gears up for a ‘tough’ week of voting fever
The months leading up to and following the elections have been violent in Kenya due to the rise of inflammatory political rhetoric and ethnicized narratives, creating divisions and public hatred. According to KNCHR, supporters of strong candidates who lose in the polls are likely to turn violent, especially if the leader doesn’t accept the results.
“The Commission therefore calls on all actors, including the Inspector General of Police, to take sufficient emergency measures to deploy additional security measures in these areas and, in line with human rights principles and standards, to quickly contain such incidents before they escalate.” ‘ said KNHCR Chair Roseline Odede.
In its latest surveillance report, published on Wednesday, the commission cites five deaths linked to political violence between February and August this year. Two of the deaths were due to traffic accidents involving vehicles associated with aspirants, while three died from injuries inflicted by members of opposing factions.
In Nairobi, Kericho, Kisumu, West Pokot, Isiolo, Mombasa, Bungoma and Kisii counties, 28 cases of assault and 44 cases of threats, harassment and intimidation were reported by both police officers and the public.
Long-standing conflicts between communities in the Kerio Valley are likely to affect voting behavior in the region, with the commission warning that this is likely to lead to voter suppression, as some affected localities have seen residents driven out and out of their polling stations relocated while others were left behind are concerned for their safety should they stay and vote.
These areas include Mandera County, where political opponents allegedly disguised as terrorists attack motorcades of opponents with weapons and/or improvised explosives; Nakuru County, where an operation to eliminate members of a local gang has been cited as a cause of tension; and grazing conflicts in Elgeyo Marakwet County. Seventy-three cases of incitement and undue influence were also reported by the Commission in Nairobi, Bungoma, Isiolo, Kakamega, Kiambu, Kilifi, Kirinyaga, Kisumu, Kwale, Meru, Migori, Mombasa, Nakuru, Nandi, Nyamira, Nyeri, Samburu, Siaya, Uasin Gishu, Wajir and West Pokot counties.
Data from the Inspector General of Police shows that the number of incidents of electoral violence has fallen to about a quarter of the 2017 figure.