Kenyan Election Stokes Fear Of Violence

Kenya is less than a month away from its next election, and a leader charged with crimes against humanity stands a good chance of winning. Over 1,000 people died in the violent clashes that followed the last election in 2007, and over 600,000 were displaced. The country has since passed a new constitution, but politics remains ethnically divided.

“This election brings out the worst in us,” Mutuma Mathiu said in an op-ed for The Daily Nation, Kenya’s largest newspaper. “It provides the perfect excuse for half the country to retreat into one tribal grouping and the other half to the other.”

Kenyans have a history of voting in ethnic blocs, and politicians tend to play up ethnic divisions during elections. This is nothing new in a democracy, but, in Kenya, this tactic too often results in bloodshed.

Standard Digitalreported today that police have been petitioned to investigate threats being issued to Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) supporters to vacate their homes ahead of elections. At the same time, Jubilee Alliance leaders want CORD to explain alleged threats made to Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. These coalitions represent the two most prominent candidates for the March 4 election, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenyatta’s ticket has been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity after the last election. Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s first president. According to The New York Times, he was “accused of financing death squads that moved house to house in early 2008, slaughtering opposition supporters and their families, including young children.”

“On the positive side, this really is a test of our resilience and strength as a country: if we can survive a close election between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, then we shall be tougher and stronger as a democracy than many of our neighbours who, secure in the strong arms of party or African big man dictatorships, are yet to dip their toes into the hot water of democratic chaos,” Mathiu said.

Democracies tend to foster a heated climate, but they are threatened by prolonged political violence. There is more at stake in Kenya’s next election than peace.

[Image via euronews]