The issue of peaceful elections has been much in the news lately, and concerns over the likelihood of violence have heightened in the past week following disruptions of campaigns by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger Raila Odinga in each other’s strongholds.
Free, fair and credible elections in a peaceful environment fall under the ambit of issues related to peace, reconciliation and national unity.
These are issues captured in the Nation Media Group’s 10-point national agenda, informed by realisation that the wounds are yet to heal from Kenya’s descent into bloodshed following the disputed 2007 elections.
Mr Odinga has in the past few days been forced to cut short National Super Alliance campaign rallies in Kericho and Baringo after being heckled by hostile pro-Jubilee crowds.
President Kenyatta’s campaign rally in Kisumu was also disrupted by supporters of the National Super Alliance, who heckled Deputy President William Ruto and forced him to abandon his address.
More serious incidents were witnessed in Thika and at stops along Thika Road when Mr Odinga’s campaign caravan was stoned by pro-Jubilee mobs. Security personnel had to fire gunshots in the air and lob teargas to disperse violent mobs.
Heading to the weekend, both President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, speaking separately, condemned violence and intolerance, and pledged themselves to pursue peaceful campaigns.
But their messages might have been diluted by each seeming keen blame the other rather than take responsibility for the actions of their respective supporters.
Mr Kenyatta, speaking on Friday in Laikipia at the funeral of once powerful Security Minister G.G. Kariuki, condemned electoral violence and hooliganism, warning that leaders inciting violence would face the full force of the law. “Those thinking that they will incite violence, community against community, that they will cause trouble, let me tell them, they are dreaming…”
Rather than a general warning against all, irrespective of party affiliation, who may engage in or incite political violence , President Kenyatta seemed to be mouthing the typical Jubilee refrain common in political rallies, social media offensives and vernacular radio stations that accuse the Odinga campaign of setting the stage for election violence.
In an NTV interview, Mr Odinga also condemned political violence and intolerance, but he too seemed to take a partisan approach. He was more concerned with the disruptions that marred his campaign rallies rather than with similar treatment meted out to Mr Kenyatta.
He deplored the stone-throwing at his Thika campaign as violence not hitherto seen in the electioneering period, but made light of the heckling and jeering that both his and President Kenyatta’s rallies faced as peaceful and “legitimate expression that people can employ to air their views to political leaders”.
But he at the same time said the heckling is orchestrated by Jubilee. “Our competitors must rein in their supporters because we believe this heckling is an excuse for the State to bring the police to the streets under the guise election-related violence”.
Both the Nasa and Jubilee campaign secretariats also chimed in with statements echoing their principals. They closed their eyes to violence or heckling perpetrated by their supporters, preferring to blame emerging violence on their other side.
The separate, but qualified, expressions of commitment to peaceful campaigns came just a week after Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga spurned an opportunity to demonstrate a joint call for peace.
On July 7, Mr Kenyatta and the Jubilee leadership attended national peace prayers at Uhuru Park, but Mr Odinga and other Nasa leaders snubbed the event. They preferred to hold their own peace prayers at their campaign secretariat, before proceeding to Kamukunji grounds to commemorate the democratisation campaign that ended decades of one-party rule.
Their decision might have been informed by suspicion that the series of prayers organised by Bishop Mark Kariuki and other evangelical leaders have been taking a clearly partisan line. They often pray for President Kenyatta and continuation of Jubilee rule as guarantee of peace, while depicting Mr Odinga and Nasa as troublemakers out to cause violence and bloodshed.
Another key issue addressed in recent times has been around integrity of the electoral system, and commitment to accept the election results. In the NTV interview, Mr Odinga for the first time pledged to honour the election results if he loses, but added his usual caveat that all would be dependent on free, fair and credible elections.
He seemed to be responding directly to a challenge issued through State House by Spokesman Manoah Esipisu to emulate President Kenyatta and publicly and unequivocally declare that he will accept the election results if he loses.
Mr Odinga only took the bait with is usual caveat, that elections must be free and fair for him to accept the outcome.
He pushed the onus on the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to deliver a “free, fair transparent and credible poll and no one will hear complaints from us.”
Both sides clearly have very different views on the conditions that guarantee peace.
The Jubilee camp harks on the commitment to peace and acceptance of election results.
Nasa stresses free, fair and credible elections as the pre-requisite to peace.