August 18, 2017

Assessing the Status of Security During and After the Polls

What has been billed as the most-eagerly anticipated and tightest general election in the country’s 54-year history is now behind us, with matters coming to a head on August 11th […]

Assessing the Status of Security During and After the Polls

What has been billed as the most-eagerly anticipated and tightest general election in the country’s 54-year history is now behind us, with matters coming to a head on August 11th when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission declared incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta the winner. While some rejoice the announcement and others contest its merits, for us, it is time to take stock of all the goings-on as far as security is concerned.

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The build-up to the August 8th polls played out to a backdrop of concerns over safety and fears of civil unrest, exacerbated by the tragic death of IEBC ICT Manager Chris Msando. In our database, we noted a steady increase of election-related activity since the turn of the year, with the country hitting a crescendo in July where 66% of the crime we noted in our records was election-related.

With the elections now in the rear-view mirror, here are some of the security concerns that we noted:

  1. Government and Civilian Preparedness:

Despite it being the most peaceful pre-election period in the country’s history, the months preceding the polls were marked by preparation and adoption of risk mitigation measures by various entities, from the government to corporate Kenya, from embassies to citizens. More than 150,000 security agents, 4,000 vehicles, 10 helicopters and 40 boats were deployed to secure the 40,833 polling stations as well as to ensure general calm was maintained countrywide.

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It is reported that the government spent over Ksh4 billion in security plans for the elections alone. Meanwhile, wananchi could be seen stocking up on food and emergency provisions in their homesteads in preparation for any eventuality. Embassies, corporates and universities also issued security advisories which were shared widely on social media as well.

  1. Pre-Election Disorder:

The volume of election-related activity rose steadily in the months leading up to August 8th. By the end of the party primaries, we had noted as much election-related activity in April and May as we had from January to March. By July, 66% of the incidents noted in our database were election-related.

The nature of these incidents varied, from murder to civil unrest, from suspects arrested to abductions and armed assault. Civil unrest for instance comprised 48% of election-related activity that we noted in July, with political rallies and public functions in Kirinyaga, Marsabit, Migori and Bungoma descending into chaos, just to name a few. The Siaya County Returning Officer was also forced to suspend campaigns for seven days in July following chaos after a rally in the area.

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IEBC Returning Officer for Siaya County Ruth Kulundu speaks to media after suspending all campaigns in the country for seven days in July.
  1. Civil Unrest:

It would probably be fair to say that there were mixed reactions to the declaration of the presidential election results on August 11th. While there were celebrations in Kasarani, Umoja, Buruburu and Makadara in Nairobi for instance, intermittent civil unrest was reported in Kibera, Kawangware, Dandora and Lucky Summer.

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The unrest was set to persist for a few days thereafter, with more disorder reported in Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Marsabit and Mombasa. In some instances, the protests led to the destruction of property, such as the burning of a market in Garissa.

In a tragic turn of events, the protests are also said to have claimed 24 lives, most notably the death of six-month old baby Samantha Pendo in Kisumu and nine-year old Moraa Nyarangi in Mathare, Nairobi.

17 of the 24 fatalities are said to have happened in Nairobi, with 10 of the 17 in Mathare alone. The Kenya Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontieres reported to have evacuated and treated 157 casualties across the country.

  1. “Wait-and-See” Approach:

By August 7th, 24 hours to the general elections, major cities had effectively been turned into ghost towns, with little traffic on the roads and even less activity in the Central Business Districts. Business owners in Kisumu, for instance, were reported to be taking precautions by shutting up shop until after the polls. The situation persisted days after the voting exercise was done, with protests reported in pockets of the country doing little to ease the apprehension.

The Matatu Owners’ Association led calls for Kenyans to go back to work after August 8th, with the sector reportedly “posting losses of Ksh100 million owing to post-election jitters.” Traders in various parts of the country also lamented over similar loss margins, with normalcy being restored only this week.

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Matatu Owners Association Chairman Simon Kimutai speaks to the media, urging Kenyans to return to work.
  1. Fake News and Spread of False Security Reports:

The fake news phenomenon first came to prominence in the immediate aftermath of the US elections in November 2016. In Kenya, the dark art of manipulating public opinion and voting patterns through doctoring of news reports was also not lost on us. The Daily Nation as well as international media house giants BBC and CNN have been forced to denounce fake reports purported to have been broadcast by them in recent weeks.

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After the declaration of the presidential election results on August 11th, it was also difficult to sieve the false from the verified, particularly on social media. The internet was awash with reports of unrest in different parts of the country. Some of the false incident alerts included a protest in Mombasa which contained footage that was months old and an illegal roadblock on Mombasa Road whose image was from a previous, unrelated protest.

The government repeatedly called for sobriety in online engagement, urging the public to desist from spreading alarmist or simply false security information which would serve only to heighten tension. Forbes went on to term this phenomenon as “a full-blown international security threat.”

{PICS: Courtesy}

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