Why the senseless inter-ethnic conflicts in Kenya?
By Beryl Aidi
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) on February 11, 2013 released a report that indicates among other things that illegal gangs and militia groups have regrouped and are reactivating ahead of the March 4 2013 General Elections. The report goes on to say that communities are arming themselves and in some cases people are moving their families from perceived danger zones to safer areas. This should shock the authorities charged with maintaining law and order to swing into action and find these groups and stop them. But even chilling is the fact that the information about communities re-arming is not exactly new.
In 2010, concerned by media reports that communities were re-arming, KHRC embarked on a research to ascertain those claims and produced the report in 2011 titled "Recurrent Ethnic Violence and Claims of Communities Arming Ahead of the 2012 General Elections.“ (At the time the report was produced the elections were expected to take place in August 2012 as per the provision of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010). This report details what appeared to be an arms race despite the events of 2008 being fresh in the minds of most Kenyans. What is baffling is that over the time, inter-ethnic conflict seems to be popping up everywhere. Equally puzzling is that nobody has been arrested and prosecuted in all these conflicts that often leave a trail of destruction and death. The question is, of what benefit are these conflicts to anyone? More importantly, who is fanning these clashes? Despite police reforms and reforms in various government bodies, why isn't there no real action to deter the perpetrators of these conflicts?
As we come draw near to the March 4 2013 General Elections, there are a lot of efforts being made to foster peace among Kenyans. These efforts are premised on attitude and behavior change. Attitude and behavior change produce the best result in dealing with social problems. However, it is a process that takes time. One needs to understand the root cause of a particular behaviour and attitude and what maintains it in order to come up with long lasting solutions to change that behavior and attitude, But has someone taken time to tackle the root cause of the attitudes and behaviours that lead to inter-ethnic conflicts? Clashes do not just occur in a vacuum. Furthermore, are the causes of these conflicts homogenous or are the causes unique to different areas?
In 2008 post -election violence, the clashes were not just inter-ethnic but also class struggles. In Kisumu for example, people living in an affluent neighbourhood bordering an informal settlement were under siege by the rioting and looting youth who threatened to attack them. If we as a society and the duty-bearers can become intentional to take time to understand what causes the inter- and sometimes intra-ethnic clashes, then we can begin to find lasting solutions. The Commission of Inquiry on Post-election Violence (CIPEV) Report, popularly known as the Waki Report, after the chair of the commission Judge Philip Waki, of 2008, documents causes and patterns of the post-election violence ( PEV) as: i) having an ethnic dimension; ii) initially being a spontaneous reaction to a perceived rigged election; iii) eventually developing into an a planned conflict sponsored by politicians and business leaders ; iv)politicians role by omission and commission such as failure to prepare their supporters on the electoral processes; v) and acts of omission and commission by administrative authorities and security forces in their handling of the PEV.
While all these issues places responsibility for the PEV to a great extent the duty-bearers, there is a role that the public played. Why is the Kenyan public so ready to take up arms against each other? Why are they easily gullible and easily swayed by politicians to fight each other? What does the Kenyan public, the ordinary mwananchi (citizen) gain by attacking and killing a fellow citizen at the behest of a politician who does not even care to know them by name? Or what manner of hatred and intolerance exists among Kenyans for each other that every little misunderstanding is sorted out by an armed conflict? Have Kenyans lost what it means to resolve differences in a diplomatic way? Or have Kenyans lost completely the any respect for the sanctity of life?
The middle class say that those who partake in the clashes are the poor people, jobless people or people whose livelihoods depend directly on land and its derivative resources. However, the social media is awash with people trading salvos with each other, mainly between pro- CORD supporters and pro- Jubilee. It is just as absurd as it is disturbing that these verbal tirades are taking on an ethnic pattern. Most of the people with access to the internet and thus spend time on social media are the middle class. These negative, if not venomous, dialogues are just as dangerous as physical clashes because they eventually lead to hatred that can easily be translated into action.
So what should we do? The government has been called upon by the civil society and other concerned bodies and persons to take steps to ensure there are systems in place to stem any election-related violence. And it has a responsibility to Kenyans to act to effectively stop the clashes and ensure they do not occur. However, from the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)’s inter-ethnic conflict map of January 2012-January 2013, one can see that inter-ethnic conflicts are not just election-related. Some are battle for resources. So is it that Kenyans cannot share resources anymore or is it that resolving differences amicably is such a difficult and tedious "unbeneficial" option?
Why must we Kenyans fight with each other?
The author is the Media and Communication Programme Officer, Kenya Human Rights Commission.
 Countdown to The March 2013 General Elections: Interim Elections Monitoring Report, KHRC, 2013 http://www.khrc.or.ke/resources/publications/doc_download/52-countdown-to-the-march-2013-general-elections-interim-election-report.html
 Recurrent Ethnic Violence and Claims of Communities Arming Ahead of the 2012 General Elections, KHRC 2011 http://www.khrc.or.ke/resources/publications/doc_download/53-recurrent-ethnic-violence-and-claims-of-communities-arming-ahead-of-the-2012-general-elections.html
 Article 101(1): “A general election of members of Parliament shall be held on the second Tuesday in August in every fifth year”.
 Coalition for Reforms and Democracy led by Raila Odinga
 Jubilee Coalition led by Uhuru Kenyatta