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Peace campaign futile unless real grievances addressed

Sunday May 21 2017

A Technical University of Mombasa student holds a placard bearing peace message when the students launched the peace campaign on May 14,  2017. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

A Technical University of Mombasa student holds a placard bearing peace message when the students launched the peace campaign on May 14, 2017. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

GEORGE KEGORO
By GEORGE KEGORO
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The defunct Electoral and Boundaries Commission (ECK) had instructed a lawyer to follow the Waki Commission as it went around the country investigating the causes of the post-election violence.

At each hearing, the lawyer would inform the commission that ahead of the ill-fated 2007 elections, the ECK had established peace committees around the country, whose purpose was to provide conflict-mitigation platforms at the local level, as a contribution to peaceful elections.

In effect, this was the ECK’s defence against a claim that its actions had contributed to the post-election violence.

Having formed peace committees the ECK thought it had done enough and was in no way responsible for the violence.

PEACE BUILDING

From peace committees appointed by the electoral commission, the country’s peace building and conflict management architecture has grown, inspired by a desire to avoid occurrences like those witnessed after the 2007 elections.

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The violence of 2007 directly led to the establishment of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), with a mandate to track and punish hate speech, regarded as a driver of the PEV.

After a period of slumber, the cohesion commission has lately been exerting itself, with attempts to define acceptable boundaries of speech in the ongoing campaigns.

But if the cohesion team was to be taken seriously, the choice of its leadership contradicts that possibility.

After retiring as Speaker of the National Assembly, Francis ole Kaparo ended up as chair of the United Republican Party, one of the two parties that formed the Jubilee coalition that took power in the 2013 elections.

WAY TO POWER

Kaparo’s appointment to the commission was a sinecure for the support he had provided to Jubilee on its way to power.

As chair of a commission requiring demonstrable political independence, Jubilee could not have selected a less suitable person.

The 2007 violence left in its wake a clamour for peace which translated into a very prominent peace lobby in the subsequent elections held in 2013.

The fear of repeat violence that haunted the 2013 elections was compounded by two questions that had remained outstanding since 2007.

The first was accountability for crimes committed during the violence in 2007, in relation to which the International Criminal Court had since taken jurisdiction.

PEACE AND JUSTICE

The fact that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, who were charged before the ICC were now also sharing a presidential ticket in the 2013 elections complicated the public discourse on the balance between peace and justice in the country.

The second question from the 2007 elections related to who had won the elections.

The possibility of answering that question was compromised by an earlier decision that the Party of National Unity and its competitor in the elections, the Orange Democratic Party, would form a coalition government.

It would have been unsettling to try and answer that question now that the two sides were in government together.

ELECTORAL REFORMS

What followed, instead, was a proposal for electoral reforms, with a view to avoiding a repeat of the poorly run 2007 elections.

Against the backdrop of the ICC cases, which represented an endeavour for accountability for the crimes of the post-election violence, the public ambition in 2013 was understood to be to ensure that the elections were run much better than the previous ones.

As a result of integrity doubts because of the cases that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto faced at the ICC, their participation in the election became an accountability issue.

However, Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto argued that their coming together was an attempt to promote peace among the formerly warring communities from which they drew most of their support.

Notwithstanding the obvious accountability issues, the peace campaigners largely embraced the Kenyatta/Ruto candidature, which they saw as a pragmatic way of addressing the dilemmas that the country faced at the time.

POWER SHARING
Notwithstanding the electoral reforms since 2007, the 2013 elections were run poorly.

ODM, which felt it had been a victim of poorly run elections in 2007 made the same claim in 2013.

The power-sharing agreement could not have been sufficient to satisfy its electoral grievances in 2007 and if ODM had hoped that 2013 would provide the opportunity for the party to make good its previous losses, that did not materialise.

The peace campaign that had preserved the Kenyatta/Ruto candidature had also stood in the way of asking difficult questions in relation to the quality of the 2013 elections.

From this point of view, the campaign for peace came to be viewed as an apology for Kenyatta/Ruto deficiencies, from which it has not recovered.

ACCUMULATE GRUDGES

In my column last weekend, I argued that Kenyan politics is affected by “gunnysacking”, a tendency to accumulate grudges that will be used during a future occasion, rather than solving problems when they first occur.

One of the reasons why the country has been unable to solve problems when they first occur is the fear that confronting the problems will endanger the peace.

In this regard, the peace campaign has hindered, rather than helped the country to build constructive political relations.

Reasonable people would feel that there should have been an occasion for an all-encompassing dialogue after the 2013 election.

The absence of such a dialogue is the source of a nervousness that accompanies the ongoing preparations for elections.

VICIOUS CYCLE

The country is now in a vicious cycle. A lack of grievance-solving mechanisms leads to political anxiety, to which the peace lobby responds with another peace campaign.

Such a response sweeps problems under the carpet, undermines the possibility of confronting the problems which are carried forward, thus needing another peace campaign.

In its current design, the peace campaign hinders rather than helps the country to move forward.

The only merit that the country’s political peace campaign can claim comes from peace itself, the end product of its claimed endeavours.

The peace campaign is otherwise mostly haughty and patronising, and regards conflict as some kind of dangerous sport that ordinary people engage in because of their ignorance.

However, there are real grievances behind the country’s history of violence. Unless those grievances are addressed, the peace campaign will be futile, like the ECK peace committees.

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