While the chance is small that August 2017 elections ignite a major conflict, county governorship races could well trigger inter-ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley, Kenya’s populous economic heart. The government should train police in non-violent methods that de-escalate crises, and restart grassroots peacebuilding initiatives.
Al-Shabaab increased attacks on security forces and civilians including local govt officials in north east, mostly in Mandera and Garissa counties, and livestock raids escalated in north. Jihadists carried out nine attacks 8-25 May killing eighteen people, notably roadside blast which hit Mandera county governor’s convoy 24 May killing five bodyguards. Police vehicle detonated landmine in Lamu county on coast 31 May, four police and one civilian killed, two other police missing. Livestock raid in Isiolo county 26 May left seven Borana herders dead. Three livestock raids in Turkana county 21 May pitting ethnic Pokot against Turkana left two dead. Pokot bandits attacked Turkana residents in Kapedo, Baringo county on border with Turkana county 27 May, killing three. Intercommunal tensions rose along boundary between Tana River and Kitui counties in south east; following farmer-herder dispute police 27 May reportedly shot 120 camels belonging to residents and torched houses at Boka wells in Besan Hergeisa, Tana River county.
Six new coastal counties created by Kenya’s 2010 constitution have replicated the closely-held patronage politics of the former Coast province, adding to inefficiencies, costs and mutual suspicions. To maximise the potential of devolution – and prevent militants like Al-Shabaab exploiting popular disappointment – Nairobi and the new counties need to become more cooperative, open to dialogue, and inclusive, especially toward marginalised youth.
Clan politics, poor services, growing corruption and disarray in the security forces are undermining Kenya’s newly formed north-eastern counties, allowing the violently extremist Al-Shabaab movement to infiltrate over the border from Somalia. To build security and capitalise on devolution’s potential, national government and county elites alike must become more pragmatic and inclusive.
One year after the Westgate attack, Al-Shabaab has become more entrenched and active in Kenya. Meanwhile, the country’s immediate post-Westgate unity has broken down in the face of increasing attacks, and the political elites, security services, and ethnic and faith communities are beset by mutual suspicion and recriminations.
Though the 2013 general elections were relatively peaceful, Kenya is still deeply divided and ethnically polarised.
Preparations for elections in Kenya turn into high gear today as the parties in the three major coalitions nominate their candidates.
The fundamental problem in the Rift Valley [in Kenya] is that the government has relied too much on a political alliance between elites from the Kikuyu and Kalenjin communities to maintain peace there.
If a governor is seen as a good performer [in Kenya] then that could be a ticket to national-level politics.
Three members of Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa staff consider the implications of Al-Shabaab’s longstanding ambition to broaden its campaigns from Somalia into the wider East Africa region.