The following is the first entry in a three part series on Kenya’s 2013 general elections and their implications for similar mass atrocity prevention efforts moving forward. The peaceful Kenyan election this past March was hailed as a major victory for those working to prevent a repeat of the mass atrocities committed in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 elections. From the perspective of the mass atrocity prevention community, Kenya did a commendable job in upholding their responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocities. The international community also succeeded in assisting national and local authorities throughout this process. Thus, both fulfilled their 1st and 2nd pillar responsibilities under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) framework, which are, accordingly: that a state must uphold its responsibility to protect its populations, and that if that state is unable to do so, the international community has an obligation to assist. Lessons learned from the 2007-2008 atrocities catalyzed both domestic and international momentum to proactively address the risk factors and causes of potential violence. But does the Kenyan case study represent a true shining example of successful R2P application, as well as a model for future applications in unstable democracies? Or were there unique circumstances germane to this case and/or a large overhype of the risks that make this atrocity prevention success not as generalizable a model as some may think?
Why were they peaceful?
After a tension-filled but mostly peaceful election, Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared Uhuru Kenyatta president-elect. Although his victory was challenged in court by his main competitor, Raila Odinga, the Supreme Court ultimately ruled it legitimate. Any analysis of why Kenya turned towards peace and away from violence must begin with the many reforms the country has undertaken to create credible institutions, such as the aforementioned IEBC and the revamped judiciary, which were criticized for corruption and incompetence and viewed with mistrust during the 2007-2008 elections. The main impetus behind these reforms was the new Kenyan constitution, ratified in 2010, which sought to change many of the broken laws, corrupt institutions and antiquated power structures that many Kenyans believed were culpable for part of the unrest in 2007-2008. Politically, a process of devolution, which gave greater control of local policies back to ethnically homogenous communities across Kenya, helped diminish political tensions fueled by long-standing ethnic-based resentments. Furthermore, according to the International Crisis Group, a consensus between the political elite and the citizenry not to drag Kenya back into chaos again was a major factor. Many Kenyans spoke of a national sense of regret, fed by strong memories and reflections of the violence in 2007-2008, as a powerful force that helped convince them that violence wasn’t the answer. Others may have felt compelled to resist promoting violence because of the possibility of accountability due to the lingering effects of the 2010 ICC indictments and the newfound confidence in Kenya’s judiciary, both of which restrained certain actors.
Some of the most important preventative efforts were indeed organic. A myriad of efforts throughout Kenyan society, from government bureaucrats, religious leaders, heads of political parties, local NGOs and youth peace activists, pushed Kenyans to embrace the peace discourse and reject violence. Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) played a large role in rooting out hate speech, promoting tolerance, and assuaging long-standing ethno-political cleavages. Local peace capacities were bolstered by the IEBC and the NCIC through creating conflict management committees at the local level, which helped ensure the consolidation of peace prior to the elections. These initiatives were prompted by the peace accord signed after the atrocities in 2008, which included requirements for establishing a countrywide network of “peace committees” at the district level that were locally instituted. Innovative and creative efforts like holding community peace workshops and conducting local street theatre performances, with themes of peace and inter-ethnic relations, helped increase inter-communal understanding prior to the election.
Domestic efforts were reinforced by numerous international partners. From the European Union and the United Nations, to the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, external actors greatly aided Kenya’s efforts to institute conflict mitigation mechanisms and multi-level early warning systems. From the United States alone, the State Department’s Conflict and Stabilization Operations bureau and the U.S. Institute of Peace helped arrange teams in high-risk areas to assist conflict mitigation efforts, while USAID funded and helped mobilize young Kenyans against violence. International NGOs, funded by foreign governments, investors and organizations (all committed to Kenyan stability) helped organize conflict resolution workshops, pro-peace advertisements, and media campaigns that forwarded pro-peace mass SMS texts to people in hot spots. The international community’s second pillar assistance to Kenya was carefully coordinated, well-funded and ostensibly effective.
The next part of this Case Study for GenPrev series will focus on how social media technology and crowdsourcing played a huge role in delivering peace during the Kenyan 2013 elections.