Violence not inevitable, it can be prevented

Friday November 30 2012

By GABRIEL DOLAN

Three months to the general election, the topic on everyone’s lips is whether the polls will be peaceful and fair.

Of course in 2007, Kenyans did vote peacefully; it was institutional failure, a stolen ballot and political incitement that caused the chaos and pushed the country to the brink.

Have we learned anything, are we better prepared this time around and could the ballot be the launching pad to a prosperous new era? Maybe, but all the early indicators are ominous and very disturbing.

I have just read a detailed risk assessment by Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention and they conclude that the risk of genocide in Kenya is high.

Many factors which have been identified as precursors to genocide are present in Kenya at this time, according to them.

These include ethnic inequality, high unemployment, social and political divisions, poverty and a poorly equipped police service.

The referendum of 2010 went off quietly but they warn that the apparent stability may be a veneer covering over a fragile and divided society waiting for the right trigger to once again explode into violence on a scale much greater that of 2007-8 and may even escalate into genocide.

They also point to the recent events in Tana River, Mombasa, Likoni, Wajir, Baragoi and Garissa as worrying indicators that violence can erupt any time and anywhere and that the security machinery has not displayed any serious capacity to handle it promptly, efficiently, fairly and professionally.

That same point was picked up by the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) 10 days ago when they stated categorically that ‘such incidences of violence, alleged retaliatory missions and tensions are greatly dangerous and could plunge this country into a crisis of monumental proportions’.

It seems that every group and family is making their own contingency plans for safety during the elections. A colleague told me how an inter-religious leaders meeting on election preparedness divulged detailed plans of what each faith had prepared for their followers should violence erupt.

Many embassies have put in place emergency evacuation plans for their citizens, while families who live outside their own home county have made preparations to relocate home for a few weeks.

It would appear that few are expecting a smooth transition. Of course the stakes are very high and so we should not underestimate the risks of violence and genocide.

We should not overestimate them either, nor start thinking that violence is inevitable. It is not, and it can be avoided. It is a time for sobriety rather than panic and disillusionment.

We all have a responsibility to protect our families, but we also have power to make a contribution towards peace and a reduction of tension. Neighbours and villages can make significant efforts at promoting peace activities and neighbourhood forums.

We should not be waiting for government to resolve all our concerns. There are already many active groups monitoring thousands of campaign meetings, and others listening to every word spoken on local radio stations.

The movement is for peace and we just remember that 41 million can surely curtail the tricks and threats of the big five candidates.