There were grave concerns that the 2013 Kenyan national elections would see a repeat of the 2007-08 bloodshed, which left 1,300 dead, 600,000 displaced, and underscored deep divides over land, ethnicity, and access to political power. However, because of improved preparation and coordination among key peace, security, and election management actors, supported by Saferworld and partners, to prevent conflict and violence, the elections and the period since passed without large-scale outbreaks of violence.
This multimedia gallery features a slideshow of images from Saferworld's work preventing election violence, a video about the project, and personal stories from Kenyans.
“There was an incredible challenge in ensuring that there was interaction between the police and communities in the run up to the elections to prevent violence.”Esther Njuguna
"In 2007-08 so many people were killed, they were killed just in front of my house. This really scared my children."
Roselyne is a Coordinator for Local Capacities for Peace International in Kisumu. She became involved in peace activism following the 2007-08 post-election violence and witnessed the effect it had on her children. Roselyne coordinated the Peace Task Team in Kisumu which brought together community members, the media, and for the first time ever, the local government and police. The Task Team's very existence was unlikely given the significant mistrust between Kisumu residents and the police in the aftermath of extensive police abuses against residents during the 2007-08 post-election violence.
"My message to the people of Likoni is we must understand the issue of devolution and how the new system of governance will work for them."
Ali Fujo is a youth representative from Mombasa county and is a member of the PeaceNet drama group. Ali became involved in peacebuilding initiatives in the county following personal experiences drawn from the 1997 electoral violence. This encouraged him to promote cohesion among diverse communities living in the coastal region. Ali is interested in governance processes, particularly on devolution, and how citizens can actively engage in decision-making processes. He has supported other young people not to be poltically manipulated, to disassociate themselves from violence, and to focus on the development opportunities Kenya's new devolved system of governance can offer.
"We went out and used the radio, telling people 'whatever the result, let's accept it'. The results of this were very good."
Bishop Joshua Koyo is a religious leader in Kisumu. In order to promote peaceful elections in Kisumu, a potential hotspot for violence around the 2013 elections, Bishop Koyo worked with Saferworld and partner Local Capacities for Peace International to establish an inter-faith group made up of religious leaders from the Christian, Hindu, and Muslim faiths in Kisumu County. Participants coordinated peace messaging, incorporating it into their religious services to help reduce tensions within their religious communities.
Trust between the community and police was particularly low because of widespread police violence in Kisumu during the 2007-08 post-election violence. As a respected member of the community, Bishop Koyo was able to spread messages of peace. He also worked to support engagement between the police in Kisumu and community residents. The work he and other members of the Peace Task Team carried out began the important work of building trust and confidence between the police, authorities and communities. It was also instrumental in ensuring that any increases in tensions were addressed effectively.
"Due to the scarcity of resources in Isiolo fighting breaks out between rival ethnic groups who are competing for valuable resources."
Hussein has been engaged in peacebuilding activities in northern Kenya for over 15 years. He worked on the development and roll-out of District Peace Committees in Kenya which incorporated peacebuilding activities into local governance structures across the country. He was the first Chairman of Wajir District Peace Committee.
As field coordinator for Isiolo Peace Link, Hussein coordinated engagement between communities in Isiolo and the police and security services. This was done by sharing early warning information and information about responses to prevent and end emerging conflict in the county during the elections.
"I have worked on the police reform processes within Kenya for some time but there was an incredible challenge in ensuring that there was interaction between the police and communities in the run up to the elections to prevent violence."
Esther Njuguna is Saferworld's Kenya Project Officer. Esther's role focuses on peacebuilding and governance, gender and police reforms in Kenya. In the run up to the March 2013 elections Esther was one of the Saferworld team who implemented the project to prevent election violence. Working across the six project sites through partners Esther was able to gain an overview of the connected problems.
"I formed a drama team and we discussed ways of creating initiatives to educate the community. We had to find creative communications solutions to engage people."
As a Field Coordinator for Peace-Net Kenya and Saferworld's Peaceful and Secure Elections project Suleiman coordinated peacebuilding initiatives in Mombasa and Kwale counties, engaging with both the government and community actors. He emphasised awareness among women and particularly youth on prevention of violence within the community. He was extremely instrumental in the establishment of the Peacenet drama group for young men and women that served as a forum for sensitising the community on peace and governance issues in the counties.
Elections raise tensions, so a key aspect of Saferworld's work in the run-up to Kenya's elections was to build relationships between communities and security providers. Kisumu County was one of the locations identified as a potential hot spot for election conflict in a mapping exercise carried out by Saferworld. Communities in this area had historically not had much trust in the effectiveness of the police and state security services, so a major shift in thinking was needed.
Initial conflict prevention steps taken by Saferworld and partner organisation Local Capacities for Peace International (LCPI) involved setting up and working with a peace and security coordination forum. This included community representatives from youth groups, religious leaders, women, elders, media and government officials from the provincial administration, the police, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The forum identified areas of concern and discussed how to work together to diffuse tension.
As a result the Kisumu Peace and Security Task Team was formed to share early warning information, monitor and observe the electoral process, and be ready to respond quickly to raised tensions. A risk map of the county 'identifying where conflict was likely to flare up' was created by the team to help with planning and intervention strategies. As well as working with formal institutions, the team also recognised the important role the media could play by proactively dissipating tensions and correcting misinformation.
An indication of the effectiveness of this approach was apparent when local police were prepared to consult with civil society organisations, including Saferworld and LCPI, before responding to early warning information a remarkable change in dynamics given the context. There was also evidence that communities acted together to prevent violence in situations where no police or security forces were present.
Saferworld also worked on the elections at the national level, reinforcing changes made locally. The National Police Service responded to calls from Saferworld and partners for greater coordination in areas at higher risk of violence by ensuring senior police officers were trained by the IEBC in electoral security preparedness.
The task team was also aided by more institutional changes: Saferworld supported an IEBC workshop which developed a framework for coordinating election security arrangements, and provided training content on election laws, and an election laws handbook. Access to greater information on electoral procedures improved the ability of the task team to deal with tensions locally, as they were able to address with confidence uncertainties and ambiguities over the balloting process. Saferworld also worked with the national media on conflict-sensitive reporting and peace journalism.
The success of our conflict prevention work is reflected not only in the reduction in violence in the areas where we worked during the March 2013 elections but also in the continuing interaction between community, county and national level actors. Saferworld will use the learning from this experience in future election security work in Bangladesh and elsewhere.