THE BLOG

Kenyan Elections 2013: the Battle for Peaceful Polls

05/03/2013 16:27 | Updated 04 May 2013

On 4 March the first Kenyan general election will take place since the disputed 2007 elections which resulted in the violent death of over 1,300 people and the internal displacement of up to 750,000 people.

With the polls just days away, the ethnic rivalry which contributed to the violence in 2007 has still not been eradicated. Human Rights Watch have warned that the "underlying causes of past election-related violence remain in place" and the former Secretary General of the U.N. - Kofi Annan - has stated that the "recent violent events and increasing tensions in the run-up to the elections are deeply worrying. Kenya cannot risk a return to those dark days".

Notwithstanding vast improvements to the country's governance since the 2007 elections, such as a new constitution, the Kenyan electoral infrastructure has also faced criticism, with worries that the likelihood of violence is increased if elections are not perceived as free and fair.

Despite these ominous predictions, the battle to prevent Kenya from returning to "those dark days" is being fought by a multitude of individuals and organisations throughout Kenya and beyond. Communicating messages in a country where access to media like TV is limited is not an easy task. Campaigners have therefore looked to diverse platforms to get their messages across.

Kenyan graffiti artists have covered a commuter train with messages of peace, and 50 million text messages will be used for the purpose of spreading the word about non-violence and encouraging participation in the elections. Joining the voices calling for peace, Barack Obama has posted a video message on the Whitehouse website saying the elections are "a moment for the people of Kenya to come together, instead of tearing apart".

The Kenyan NGO S.A.F.E. has garnered the support of Kenyan stars of stage and screen to produce film Ni Sisi, which was last week released to cinemas across Kenya and on DVD. The film's aim is to remind Kenyans that it is individuals who have the power to say no to tribalism, rumours and corruption - the critical factors in the post-election violence of 2007.

The story pivots around the theme of Kenyan identity, youth empowerment, forgiveness and personal accountability for keeping peace. As the characters say in the film:

"It is us who fought, it us who killed, it is us who spread rumours. But it is also us who can change things, it is us who have the power to challenge bad leadership, it is us who create our community'".

S.A.F.E. believe that performance has an unrivalled ability to reach into the hearts and minds of a community, arguing that when you can move people, and when you can make them laugh, you can impact on people's attitudes more powerfully than in any other way.

Discussing the film, Executive Director Nick Reading said, "Violence threatens everyone in Kenya and undermines the work being done to overcome other social challenges such as HIV/AIDS. Ni Sisi helps Kenyans explore the complex issues surrounding post-election violence, examine Kenyan identity, and to take individual responsibility for keeping peace this year."

Campaigns by organisations such as S.A.F.E. will hopefully go some way to encouraging peace at these critical elections. However, it is evident that for these efforts to make a difference the electoral infrastructure must also prove itself to Kenyans. As Kofi Annan has said, "The elections must be peaceful, free and fair. They must be conducted in accordance with the rule of law. They must be carried out with integrity, and must reflect the will of the people. Only then will national unity, stability and cohesion be safeguarded."

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