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kenya-election-webBy ANTHONY DiROSA

The following is the final 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? 

A True Model of 1st and 2nd Pillar R2P or an Aberration?

Kenya was certainly seen as a resounding success within the mass atrocity prevention community, but what are the lessons and best practices that are logically transferable to similar cases where there’s risk for political violence? In terms of the risk of mass atrocities, Kenya was indeed a unique case for several main reasons. Kenya’s government was first of all deeply committed to avoiding the same pitfalls suffered during the last national election cycle, where over 1,000 were killed and 350,000 displaced. These events prompted a political crisis, subsequent ICC indictments and led to the rapid destruction of more than half of the country’s GDP. Following this, Nairobi engaged in massive reforms, local and national conflict mediation efforts and greatly enhanced its police presence prior to the elections. These efforts fostered a narrative for a national violence prevention agenda that had not been seen in Kenya during past election cycles, essentially laying a strong foundation for creating a culture of accountability aimed at dissuading the incitement of political violenceIn these five years, Kenya actuated a multidimensional peace industry that involved cohorts and partners from all walks of life, all invested in the same goal. It’s hard expect such an effort to replicated elsewhere in Africa where lack of resources, institutional capacity and political will would probably be in short supply compared to the Kenyan case. The feasibility of implementing highly coordinated tech campaigns in the DRC or Somalia is practically impossible compared to doing so in Nairobi, also known as the “Silicon Savannah”, as the disparities with infrastructure, resources and outside assistance are stark.  But while the individual building blocks of peace were positioned to succeed in the Kenyan case, that doesn’t mean the blueprint of what worked in Kenya can’t be utilized in similar cases.

Secondly, when advocating for mass atrocity prevention in nations where strong electoral management and effective governance are lacking, strong institutions are usually the first defense against fraud and instability. Kenya, who many see as a model for democracy amongst East African nations, had institutions that weren’t completely broken, but rather in serious need of fixing. In other fledgling democracies it may be hard to quickly repair and restore confidence in institutions in order to establish a foundation for a peaceful democratic process, that of which Kenya managed to achieve in a relatively short period of time. Thirdly, the main risk in Kenya was election-based violence, which means the roots of violence weren’t nearly as deep as other countries in the region like the DRC, Sudan, or Somalia, where mass atrocities are being committed in the context of civil wars and widespread militia-based fighting. A key wildcard in this case was the ICC’s involvement after the last general elections and the symbolic impact they had on dissuading violence. It’s easy to see that the Hague was a powerful antidote to violence in Kenya, just as it’s not in Khartoum.

Another factor that makes the model utilized in Kenya ungeneralizable to other R2P cases is that the Kenyan government was fully committed to atrocities prevention for a variety of reasons previously mentioned. Externally driven capacity building, robust civil society partnerships and various election observers were more than welcomed by Nairobi, which differentiates this from more classic R2P cases where atrocities are occurring in closed systems, like Syria or Sudan. Many allege that the general elections were a classic case of the dog that didn’t bark, and that over hype and exaggeration distorted the true risk of mass atrocities. It remains hard to prove how much of an effect various initiatives had on the risk of violence during the elections, which may render the exactitude of recommendations for future cases somewhat unclear. Whether there was over hype or not isn’t going to bug policymakers, citizens, or international investors when considering the alternative, inaction, but it does muddy the waters for the international community when seeking to replicate, with confidence, the ingredients of the Kenyan model.  The Kenyan example was uniquely geared towards a strong possibility of peace, that doesn’t mean some of the preemptive efforts taken can’t be seen as a successful utilization of the R2P toolkit. Certain lessons in Kenya may be useful in helping assist unstable democracies where election violence is a serious concern, such as Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Mali in the short-term. The lessons and successes/failures in coordinating local early warning and response systems, pressuring political leaders to limit incitement, training indigenous media outlets to spread tolerance, and strengthening local capacities for peace, should be shared widely within the mass atrocity/ genocide prevention community.

Finally, part of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ norm requires governments and the international community to work to ensure sustainable peace by addressing the root causes of violence. In fact, the International Commission for Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) Report from 2001, one of the foundational documents of R2P, considered this to be the international community’s most important obligation. To think that root causes of Kenya’s past atrocities have been completely addressed because of one short-term success would be dangerous and irresponsible. It is the obligation of the international community to assist Kenya in addressing these root causes in order to ensure long-term mass atrocity prevention. As Kenya exhales after a tense several months, the international community must begin this process while consolidating on gains made in enhancing civil society capacities and institutional accountability, particularly the judiciary. Newly appointed President Kenyatta must work to further establish trust in the electoral process, carry out constitutional reforms,  continue the ongoing process of national reconciliation, and build upon the peace industry that helped carry Kenyan society through the recent elections. Not capitalizing on Kenya’s short-term victories in mass atrocity prevention would not only tarnish the generalizability of lessons learned for future cases , but would also amount to a failure by neglecting lessons of the past.

Photo: AP Photo / Ben Curtis

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By ANTHONY DiROSA

Kenya electionsThe following is the second 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? 

Technology, Crowdsourcing and Social Media

Also imperative to note was the use of technology in the Kenyan case study; mass data-mining operations, the utilization of mobile communications and monitoring SMS messages for hate speech are illustrative of the innovative technological platforms that are currently expanding the mass atrocity/conflict prevention toolkit. International partners like TechChange, who teamed up with domestic crisis-mapping tech company Ushahidi, helped fill gaps in conflict prevention capacity by diligently monitoring the Kenyan elections using social media. Ushahidi used Crowdmapping to produce crisis maps, or visual data fed by on-the-ground monitors posting live updates via Twitter, SMS or online posts, which would then be geo-tagged by the system to reveal potential risk areas. As this data was aggregated, monitors could sift through it to identify reports of violence, hate speech, corruption and voter suppression and coordinate responders on the ground. Ushahidi’s work is emblematic of how crisis mapping and crowdsourcing technologies can be used to encourage transparency and accountability in elections, and ultimately reduce the chance of violence.

Early warning/ early response systems across the country, specifically in the Rift Valley, were some of the more replicable conflict prevention mechanisms employed, in terms of best practices and lessons learned for future cases. The USAID-funded Local Empowerment for Peace (LEAP) led the coordination of early warning/early response (EWER) in the Rift Valley, as they trained nearly 600 peace monitors on how to observe, report, and respond to signs of early warning/early response. Monitors would report to a vast network of first responders, which included civil society groups and local administration officials, including police forces. LEAP, along with Mercy Corps, Uchaguzi and Ushahidi, with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, worked in partnership to established two early warning hubs designed to respond to alerts from the monitors. The hubs were operated by data analysts and dispatchers who monitored the Uchaguzi platform, a hate-speech data-mining operation, as peace monitors also fed them information via cell phone. This effective example of partnering humanitarian agencies, civil society groups and tech-firms in joint conflict prevention and early warning/early response initiatives is a model that ought to be studied and replicated in the future.

Kenya’s government, specifically the Communications Commission, also led the way through innovative measures requiring screening of  all short message service (SMS) texts for bulk dissemination by politicians.  Kenya’s National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring took charge of identifying and reprimanding blogs with hateful and provocative material. New measures called on mobile companies to intercept any mass texts that may provoke violence. These were seen as reactionary policy measures intended to avoid what happened in 2007-08, when ethno-political hate messages were spread by political groups, leading directly to inter-ethnic violence. The suspension or censoring of mass communication technologies in conflict prone settings aren’t unique to Kenya, as SMS texts were suspended in the DRC in 2011, as well as Kashmir in 2012 and Egypt last year. International, domestic and local level efforts to curtail one of the main catalysts for violence in 2008, indigenous language media outlets, were also laudable. The media, mainly radio stations, were largely broadcasters of peace this time around, as commercial and government run stations were deeply involved in educating voters on the issues, focusing on civic education, preaching restraint and tolerance, and avoiding any and all political incitement. International media training agencies were involved in advising journalists on how to report critically without stirring up ethnic and sectarian tensions. Religious leaders also played a large role as conveyors of peace with messages of tolerance and respect aimed at their constituents. Although there were widespread criticisms and accusations that Kenya’s media engaged in self-censorship and failed to fulfill its watchdog role, it’s clear that given the alternative, the result should be deemed a success.

The next part of this Case Study for GenPrev series will focus on how the Kenyan model can be used in future R2P cases, and what the implications are for future atrocity prevention efforts.

Photo: The New York Times

Democratic Republic of Congo: High stakes for November elections

The United States Institute of Peace, in association with the Great Lakes Policy Forum, hosted a discussion June 2 on how the United States and the international community can help stabilize the dangerous situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of the November elections. As security has broken down in many areas of the country, the threat of politically motivated violence is real—before, during, and after the election.

The DRC has been in a perpetual state of conflict for decades. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum currently lists it as one of the places most prone for ethnic conflict in the near future. It’s suffered two major wars, with over 5.7 million people dead as a result. Armed groups continue to challenge government control, while the government itself is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. Despite a successful election in 2006, dangerous conditions persist till today, especially in the east, where rebel groups perpetrate crimes against civilians including sexual violence, murder, looting, and forced displacement. According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, “national and provincial structures remain incapable of ensuring basic security for communities, providing transparent management of resources and wealth, and addressing entrenched problems of corruption, poverty, lack of development and heightened ethnic and regional tensions.”

The first speaker at the June 2 discussion, Joshua Marks, the Central Africa Program Officer for the National Endowment for Democracy, spoke at length on the DRC’s upcoming election. According to him, international monitoring is key to avoiding violence. Successful monitoring has a two-fold effect, he said: It not only gives the government greater legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, it also gives it greater credibility in the eyes of other countries, which may encourage them to give more aid.

While Marks said he was confident that UN and EU teams would ensure a fair election, he urged listeners to be cautious in their expectations. As he pointed out, even successful elections can give way to chaos, and the international community must make sure to strengthen other aspects of society as well—for example, supporting a greater separation of powers and protecting freedom of speech.

Also integral to stemming an outbreak of violence, Marks said, is monitoring the media, since media can be used as a tool either for democratic expression or hateful propaganda. Donor countries need to take a greater role in ensuring that they guide the Congo’s media towards the former. He looks at successful U.S. policy in this case as a good example. U.S. funding has helped create local radio broadcasts that are fair, strengthening civil society and open and democratic debate—two factors that can help avoid election-time violence.

While admitting the country is still is a dismal state despite billions of dollars in aid, Marks said he believes coordination of efforts by governments and like-minded organizations can lead to fund being used more efficiently and effectively.

The discussion’s second speaker, Tia Palermo, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, spoke extensively on the problem of sexual violence in the DRC. Recent reports have shown that sexual violence against women there is one of the highest in the region. However, Palermo claims the high levels of rape are not due to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, but simply by men acting on their own, which points to a fundamental problem in Congolese society. To rectify this, Palermo recommended that donor nations help build education programs and instruments to aid in the prosecution of accused rapists.

Photo:© UNHCR/P.Taggart

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