T minus 10 days. That’s how long we have until the eagerly-anticipated August 8th polls, and the political temperature in the country has hit a fever pitch. Political talk shows, presidential debates and opinion polls still dominate the headlines, and understandably so.
In as far as security is concerned though, it’s been billed as the most peaceful pre-election period in the country’s history by the Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i. Various state security agencies have moved to allay fears of post-election unrest in the past few months, but this isn’t to mean that there haven’t been security concerns raised during the electioneering period.
Here are some of the issues that have cropped up in the build-up to the polls:
- Advisories/Projections of Unrest:
Despite this being the most peaceful pre-election period in Kenya’s history, the divisive and increasingly confrontational tone of the political campaigns has led to various independent groups voicing concerns at the potential of unrest after the polls.
Monitors from the European Union Electoral Observers Mission have spoken of the potential for unrest after the polls after holding meetings with various stakeholders in the electoral process, including the IEBC and concerned citizens.
The former US Secretary of State John Kerry will be in the country next week to head the US Electoral Observers Mission, with the country’s top brass also raising concerns over the potential for violence after the polls.
However, the African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki was in the country last week and, speaking after meetings with key players in the polls, expressed confidence in the country’s ability to conduct a peaceful, free and fair election.
- Campaign Violence and Mapping out of Potential Electoral Violence Hotspots:
In August 2016, the IEBC released the Election Risk-Mapping report in which it listed 17 counties as being high-risk areas leading up to the polls, including Lamu, Meru, Narok, Siaya, Migori, Nairobi and Kiambu.
Fast-forward to 2017 there was an outbreak of chaos during a political rally in the Migori, leading to the shooting and injuring of a governor’s bodyguard after rival groups clashed. Meanwhile, in Siaya, the county returning officer was forced to suspend campaigns for seven days earlier this month as political tension threatened to spill over.
In Kirinyaga, the race for the gubernatorial seat took a turn for the worse as rival groups clashed during a rally, leading to the stoning of a campaign vehicle by stone-hurling youth. The youth eventually made away with the vehicle’s car keys as well.
In the Coast, the National Intelligence Service identified Likoni and Kisauni sub-counties as areas that were prone to post-election unrest in Mombasa. This came a month after the Kenya Community Support Centre reported noting “39 serious incidents” in the Coast as we build up to the polls.
Lastly, in Nairobi, the county security agencies listed areas like Umoja, Kariobangi, Ziwani, Globe Cinema r/about, Kibera, Mathare and Buruburu as potential hotspots earlier in the month, with County Commander Japheth Koome saying the threat level in these areas was marginally higher.
- Government Response/Readiness for the Polls:
“In case violence occurs we will have to stop it and this means that we will be forced to use more force than that used by those causing chaos,” Joseph Boinnet, Inspector-General.
This no-nonsense statement from the I.G and the Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i came after the acquisition of heavy artillery, additional armoury and crowd control equipment to deal with any fall-out from the August polls.
In March this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to do his best to ensure this year’s polls were peaceful as he oversaw the graduation of 4,000 police officers in Kiganjo, Nyeri. The IEBC requested for 150,000 security officers to help oversee the general election, perhaps indicative of the lengths to which the state is willing to go to allay any fears of civil unrest. Additional officers are expected to be drawn from the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Prisons Service, National Youth Service and other auxiliary state security organs.
Fred Matiang’i also went further to name the bandit attacks in Laikipia and the threat of further attacks from the Al Shabaab as two threats to the voting process, adding that they “are well prepared to deal with any eventuality.”
“We have a well-structured plan on how to mobilise resources to ensure this election is a success. We shall step up security in threat-prone areas to ensure votes are safeguarded,” Mr. Matiang’i said.
- Tackling Hate Speech, Misuse of Social Media and “Fake News”:
“So tell Kenyans that there is nowhere where you can avatar yourself, even in social media, without us physically tracking where you are.”-Francis Wangusi, Director General-Communication Authority of Kenya.
The government has gone about bolstering its digital surveillance capabilities ahead of the upcoming general elections. Ksh400 million was spent in the acquisition of a mobile internet surveillance system, with a further Ksh1.1 billion pumped into the installation of a spectrum monitoring system to keep an eye on unauthorized communication through other channels.
However, the government has also been quick to dismiss suggestions of internet shut-downs over the electioneering period, insisting that this has never been on the cards.
“We are a digital country and that is not our intention. It is not even a remote fall-back position.”–Joe Mucheru, Information and Communication Technology C.S.
In recent weeks, the admins of 21 county WhatsApp groups have also been put on notice by the Communication Authority, while the Authority has also gone about arresting bloggers behind fake news and political propaganda.
- Civilian Preparedness for the Polls:
The Kenyan digital space at the moment is littered with various election preparedness documents, infographs and information packs. This perhaps points towards a general unease within the corporate sector, with many firms circulating advisories among their staff on precautions to take ahead of the polls.
Remember, preach the peace!