Kenya Risks Election Violence With Mood Polarized, Group Says

  • ‘Serious concern’ raised over potential bloodshed, NDI says
  • Group says killings, political violence already taking place

Kenya’s government has failed to put adequate measures in place to deal with a potential outbreak of violence around elections in August, the National Democratic Institute said.

The chances of unrest at the time of the Aug. 8 ballot have been heightened by an “extremely polarized” political environment, the Washington-based advocacy group said in a statement on its website Monday. An NDI delegation traveled to the country last week to meet political leaders, electoral and government officials, among others.

“Virtually everyone with whom the delegation met expressed serious concern about the potentials for violence,” it said. “Numerous stakeholders asserted to the delegation that the question is not whether there will be violence, but how much and where.”

Kenyan elections are fractious times for investors because of violence that engulfed the nation in three of the past five votes. In a disputed December 2007 vote, ethnic violence left 1,100 people dead and forced 350,000 more to flee their homes. The polls may “heighten political instability,” according to the International Monetary Fund, which cut its growth 2017 forecast for Kenya to 5.3 percent from an earlier 6 percent projection.

Delays in installing new members of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission until Jan. 20 left the authority with less than seven months to organize the elections, the NDI said.

‘Difficult Timing’

“That timing would be difficult in any country,” it said, adding that the IEBC commissioners expressed confidence they will meet their challenges.

The last vote in 2013 was relatively peaceful after authorities stepped up “anti-violence efforts” and established so-called early-warning platforms, the NDI said. “Anti-violence efforts do not match those mounted in the run-up to the last elections.”

Increased interest in county-level positions of governor and assemblies is likely to increase the potential for violence in those areas, it said.

A drought is already fueling unrest in western parts of the country and “has led to deaths resulting from farm invasions by pastoralists in politically volatile areas,” the NDI said. Cattle rustlers armed with assault rifles, spears and machetes have carried out raids in western Kenya, while herders have invaded private ranches in central Kenya in search of food for their livestock.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, is seeking a second five-year term in the vote. He’ll compete against one of four candidates that the opposition National Super Alliance is in the process of selecting.

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