By Peter Serete, Citizen Reporter Coordinator
Transforming Communities for Social Change
Youth in Mumias burning a T-shirt belonging to a rival political party.
On February 20 at 1:44 pm I received the following message to the TCSC Call-in Center: A man believed to be a member of a new formed militia gang on Mt. Elgon has been killed this morning by former SLDF [Sabaot Land Defense Force] ex-militia that is regrouping. The man is believed to have killed two Bukusu men in Chepkurkur.
The above message was extracted from our FrontlineSMS platform received yesterday in our centralized call-Center. Erustas Chesondi and Ezra Kegondu are already on Mt. Elgon meeting local administrators and other peace builders to find a solution. [Note: Three days after this assassination there was another political assassination on Mt. Elgon.]
With elections coming up this year in Kenya, the time for early and sustained efforts to prevent clashes is now. Transforming Communities for Social Change/Friends Church Peace Teams (TCSC/FCPT) has already done 24 Citizen Reporter trainings reaching 420 new citizen reporters. We are targeting to reach 1200 impartial and non-partisan Citizen Reporters who will help TCSC/FCPT and our international partners to intervene in violent situations before, during, and after the election on August 8, 2017. TCSC has developed a concept paper that will focus on our role in pre-and post-election observation, civic education and matrix summary based on our Early Warning System with appropriate peace intervention by TCSC and FCPT.
Already our trained citizen reporters have gathered information and reported that communities are prepared for intimidation and violence. This indicates that this is the election year of political intolerance. During our two-day citizen reporting trainings we learnt that political intolerance is perpetuated by our elected leaders’ intent on galvanizing and consolidating political support, particularly when their hold on power or access to it seems under threat. They have become impervious to the opinions of others by severely marking their own territories. Faced with the possibility of loss, all sides of the political divide raise the stakes to astronomically high levels and utilize propaganda to “insulate” their base from any opposition. Where the propaganda by itself fails to work, violence or the threat of violence is the next alternative. People will be incited to burn houses of their fellows of different political parties or tribal identity. Zoning of areas and pockets of influence are identified and protected by vigilantes who prevent the “enemy” from campaigning among them, let alone setting up a campaign poster.
Participants of a Citizen Reporting workshop in Toywondet on Mt. Elgon.
Violence is the inescapable result of political intolerance. In multi-ethnic areas of occupation like Turbo/Mautuma and Mumias we have conducted several interventions as unscrupulous politicians draw lines marking their ethnic boundaries and depend on one community hating another in order to fuse together their support base. They will propagate negative attributes against them either in public or, better still, in secret. This creates a systematic dehumanization program whose end is outright violence.
Political intolerance also fuels voter apathy infusing the losing side with the “sour grapes” attitude of “the election will be rigged anyway”. It destroys faith in democratic institutions and leads to gerrymandering with voters being imported to support a particular candidate. Those opposed are threatened with violence so that they don’t vote or vote elsewhere. We are perhaps the one nation where voters travel long distances to vote. Despite living in the city, many residents will go to their upcountry original home to elect “one of our own”. This has happened with ethnic mobilization during the recently concluded voter registration period.
Tribalism and rumors spreading
The political principals are saying that the election was won (or lost) on February 14 – the day the registration ended. That will be the actual election day. Election day, August 8, is simply the “mobilization day” just to legally confirm what February 14 had declared. After seeing the distribution of voters, the political class can either breathe easy or work out other strategies to beat the system. This voter mobilization exercise is nothing but tribal warfare and the warlords have sounded the war horns saying, “Come all, we must do all we can to defend ourselves against that community.” Everyone who is above eighteen has been ordered to come and register to ensure there will be enough “soldiers” to face the “enemy”. The voter registration is, therefore, just a form of compulsory conscription.
Citizen reporters from the Mt. Elgon region after a two days training.
Voter registration and the politics of intolerance
The underlying factor in this high-stakes numbers game is just one thing – political intolerance. Political intolerance is the inability to accept the political views, opinions and ideologies of another even if they have something reasonable to say. It is characterized by a strong feeling that one’s own ideas and opinions or ways of doing things are better than the other and so we must do everything we can to stop the other. The stalwarts are telling their voters that they should expect the worst if this or that community accesses or remains in power. They base their arguments on stale propositions laced with ethnic stereotypes to craft perceptions that fit their own goals. We are possibly one of the most ethnically intolerant societies on the entire globe.
We have brought ourselves to consider our electoral politics to be the means of liberating us from dominance by another community. The spirit behind the current voter mobilization is just that. It is aimed at ending the political hegemony of one community or to end the persistent clamor of power by another – depending on how the voter sees it. Forget those democratic ideals such as inclusivity, equitability or even patriotism. Big empty words! Forget all those manifestos that are about to hit your face. Nobody reads them nor do they even care to know what they contain. Their eyes and ears were elsewhere. They only want to vote for their man and that is it.
TCSC/FCPT is moving from planning to action in order to achieve a desired peaceful impact amid rising tensions.
- Identification of conflict sources
- Analyze sources based on hotspot areas
- Identify brewing sources of conflict
- Possible causes for escalation
- Possible de-escalation methods
- Work plan for crisis management
- Review of previous violent trends and patterns and new indicators that may lead to possible violence
- Identify Information Gathering Sources through our citizen reporters, watchdog units, and our trained facilitators
- Monitoring and evaluation of indicators
- Sustainability recommendations
TCSC/FCPT has a large task ahead of it in the next five months. We ask for your attention, prayers, and concerns as Kenya enters this potentially violent election season.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Teams (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)
P.O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765-4098
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/