EDITORIAL: Put an end to electoral violence


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The cycle of death that stalks Kenyan election seasons appears to have returned. On Saturday, two politicians were killed in Baringo in what appears to be a politically motivated attack, even though police investigation is ongoing.

In the perennial hotspot of Trans Mara in Narok, thousands of residents are leading a tortured existence.

Children can not go to school. Residents attend only hospitals located in areas where they do not have to bypass the strongholds of certain ethnic groups with which they are battling. Where in the past these battles were fought with machetes, spears and arrows, now the assailants are attacking with guns.

The police appear helpless. Astonishingly, in some instances the police are said to have laid live grenades in the boundary separating two warring groups.

This is obviously an intolerable situation – and the danger is that there are many others like it around the country. In some parts of Nairobi, many slums have been segregated along ethnic lines, with the informal understanding that during times of conflict or electioneering, members of the various ethnic groups should stay within their own allotted territories.

Across Kenya, a type of zoning along ethnic lines, a practice last witnessed in the Kanu years, has seen members of both sides of the political divide get booed and their rallies disrupted simply because they ventured into places perceived to be strongholds of their rivals.

This is, needless to say, a dangerous situation. It is true that there may be major long-term issues underlying some of these conflicts.

In the case of Trans Mara, the question of land allocation systems and historical injustices looms large.

In Nairobi, there are major problems involving the urban poor who often see themselves as having little to lose in case of outbreaks of large-scale violence.

However, the fact that these episodes of extreme violence intensify during election season points to the possibility that there are politicians who actively stoke these conflicts for selfish reasons.

In some cases, the objective is to evict voters who are seen as leaning in the direction of opponents. In others, politicians drive youth to engage in cattle rustling as a way of showing that they are champions of local interests.

The danger is that this creates a cycle of impunity that is difficult to break. There is certainly a case to be made that the long-term underlying causes as clearly outlined in a report by the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission should be addressed so that enduring solutions can be found to these conflicts.

It is an indictment on the authorities that many of these issues, including those involving historical common land claims, have not been tackled.

However, politicians can not be allowed to use crude violence against innocents to advance their ambitions.

It is outrageous that so many mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters are mourning the loss of their loved ones in Trans Mara and elsewhere while the whole security apparatus appears unable to stop it. Things are only expected to get worse amid the tight competition expected for gubernatorial positions in many parts of the country.

It is time the government took this problem seriously. There is no greater responsibility that authorities in government hold than that of keeping the lives and property of citizens safe from criminals.

There is urgent need to spell out clear instructions to security officials that if they are unable to maintain peace in their jurisdiction they will face severe reprimand, including suspension and ultimate loss of their jobs.

The politicians who are encouraging this criminality must also be identified and successfully prosecuted.

Anything less than this will be to invite a descent into a state of chaos in which there will be few winners and many losers.

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