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23 Jan 2013
Journalist Casualties: 0
Media Staff Casualties: 0
Under Investigation: 0
By Helena Williams
Kidnapping in some areas, such as Lamu Island, in support of insurgents operating in and around Mali is just one of many acts of violence predicted during the upcoming Kenyan elections.
Numerous threats hang over the country as it heads to the polls on March 4. As journalists and news crews prepare to cover the election they are advised to take note of the security situation there.
More than 1000 people died and 600,000 were displaced when inter-ethnic fighting broke out around the disputed 2007 election. This April, four Kenyans – including Uhuru Kenyatta, a frontrunner in the 2013 election – will face trial before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their alleged role in the 2007-2008 post-election violence.
And with the stakes for political power so high, the risk of local violence during the race to replace president Mwai Kibaki is apparent.
‘Gloomy for peace’
Richard Leach, MD at Kenya-based security firm Hybrid Solutions, which provides support for international journalists working in Kenya, warned that insurgents may use kidnap as a vehicle for violence.
“There has been a general alert in Lamu that Somalian insurgents are determined to take hostages in sympathy or support of AQIM [Al-Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] in Mali and Algeria,” he told INSI.
The warning comes days after militant Islamists from Mali took hostages in a gas plant in Amenas, Algeria. The siege ended with 38 civilians dead.
Leach said that tensions between farmers and cattle herders could also result in deadly clashes. This would mirror the 2007 violence where fighting in the Tana Delta region in a dispute over land and water between the Pokomo and the Orma people left over 100 people dead.
“There has been an increase in violence on the Tana River as electoral boundaries are moved and this has exacerbated the tension between pastoralist and agriculturalist communities,” he said.
“It all looks pretty gloomy for peace.”
A number of fatal ambushes were also reported last month on the road from Archers Post to Marsabit. The MP for Saku, Hussein Tari Sasura, was fired at by an individual dressed in a police uniform while being driven on the road.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has reported a spate of grenade, IED and armed attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa and Garissa, and said that further attacks are likely. It says there is a possibility of attacks specifically targeting election-related activity.
‘The risk of political violence is unacceptably high’
A report published last week by International Crisis Group (ICG), an NGO dedicated to resolving deadly conflict, warned that the potential for local violence is extremely high as the stakes are raised in the battle for power.
“Kenya’s elections this year should turn the page on the bloodshed of five years ago, but the risk of political violence is still unacceptably high,” the report said.
“A new constitution, a fresh election commission and a reformed judiciary should help reduce the risk of political violence. But the vote will still be a high-stakes competition for power, both nationally and in 47 new counties, each of which will elect a governor, senator and local assembly.”
In this election, Kenyans will vote for county governors and senators for the first time.
The report asked politicians to stop stoking divisions through ethnic campaigning in order to prevent a spiralling deterioration of the current security situation.
“The people deserve better”, says Comfort Ero, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director.
“To put the horror of five years ago behind them, Kenyans need the chance to vote without fear and elect leaders committed to reform and ready to serve society as a whole rather than the narrow interests of its elites”.
The International News Safety Institute will be monitoring the situation and will issuing safety advice for journalists and news crews covering the elections next month.