Kenya determined to avoid election violence

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With less than a week to go until Kenyans go to the polls, fears remain over a return to the violence of 2007.

Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi, Kenya (Picture: TheFutureIsUnwritten/Flickr)

As Kenya’s presidential and legislative elections rapidly approach, police have found leaflets inciting violence being distributed in some areas, including Kimusu, which is home to the Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and also in Mombasa.

Following post-election violence five years go, the authorities have been trying to crack down on hate speech.  Hate leaflets, as they are called, were widely distributed after the disputed December 2007 election, sparking a crisis in which more than 1,000 people were killed in six weeks of unrest, which also saw some 300,000 people forced from their homes.

The Standard (18/2) reported that the National, Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) is using 400 officers to monitor hate speech, while another 1,500 police officers have been deployed in all constituencies to monitor hate talk as election campaigns intensify.

The commission disclosed that out of the 400 multi-sectoral officers, 290 are police officers and 110 have been picked from peace organizations.

NCIC vice-chair Milly Lwanga said all officers have been supplied with monitoring gadgets to help them scrutinise hate speech and ethnic content.

Lwanga says the commission is undertaking a study on the stereotyping of communities, with the findings theoretically helping to identify and understand coded language, terminologies, signs and even body language.

Lwanga says that 30 bloggers and social media users have already been sent warnings against spreading hate speech, with some religious organisations numbered amongst the recipients. The commission is also closely monitoring print and electronic media after warning media proprietors not to broadcast or publish any content that could instigate violence.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Stanley Cheruiyot added that the NCIC will provide translators to identify ethnic content made in vernacular languages.

There are eight candidates standing for president on March 4th,  but Odinga and deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta are considered the two frontrunners.

Kenyatta’s candidacy has been controversial as he and his running mate, William Ruto, have been charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court (ICC) over allegations of fuelling violence in the wake of the last election.

Televised Debate

Kenya’s first ever presidential debate, broadcast live on eight television and 34 radio stations on February 11th, was unlikely to sway an electorate deeply polarised by ethnic and regional interests. It did, though, subject the candidates’ often surreal policy promises to critical scrutiny and raise directly the charges against presidential aspirant Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate, William Ruto.

The novelty of TV and expectations that sparks would fly between the frontrunners, Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Kenyatta, attracted a huge audience of over 44m people. Organised by local media houses, the three-and-a-half hour marathon debate featured all eight candidates and  was said to have cost about $1.1m. A second debate took place on February 25th.

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