Political tensions are rising in Kenya ahead of elections in August for the presidency and other senior posts. Measures taken now can avert the risk of a repeat of electoral violence that killed hundreds of people in 2007-2008.
Ethnic conflicts and raids by herders spiked in north. Borana raiders 20 March attacked Samburu herders at Kom area on border between Isiolo and Samburu counties, ten people killed. Fighting in Baringo county continued: after three Pokot women killed 16 March, Pokot bandits same day attacked Illchamus community in Makutani area, ten people killed, govt deployed police and army. Police 25 March shot dead four armed Pokot who tried to block burial of ten killed in bandit attacks. As drought forces thousands of herders into private ranches in Laikipia county in search of pasture, armed herders 5 March killed ranch director; army deployed to improve security. Security forces 27 March shot dead about 100 cattle in efforts to drive herders out of Laikipia area, Pokot warriors 29 March burnt down safari lodge in neighbouring ranch and shot at owners.
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.
As Kenya advances into southern Somalia, it must act cautiously and avoid prolonged “occupation”, lest it turn local opinion against the operation and galvanise opposition Al-Shabaab can co-opt, much as happened to Ethiopia in 2006-2009.
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.