Kenya's Security Sector Needs to Learn from the Past to Safeguard the Nation at this Critical Moment

Head of Office, Kenya


Kenya is just days away from the 2017 general election, and several challenges on the horizon should make all pause and reflect. The new government position that the Jubilee Administration will not implement the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission Report, based on Deputy President William Ruto’s comments, is most disconcerting. His position, which remains uncontroverted by the government of Kenya, means that 45 years of violations and atrocities will be swept under the rug, remaining unacknowledged, without remedy. His statement in the current election environment bodes ill for Kenya.

According to long-term observers from various local and international groups, notably ELOG (the Elections Observers Group), the Carter Center, and the European Election Observers, the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has made a good attempt at preparing for the August 8 election. However, challenges persist. The IEBC is accused of failing to communicate its actions relating to critical aspects of its mandate with expected lucidity vis-à-vis the letter and spirit of the law. For example, the IEBC has muddled the cleanup of the voter register, single sourcing the service provider to undertake ballot printing, and threatened to constrain the ability of the media to announce election results from polling stations. However, such issues when left unaddressed also affect transparency and legitimacy around the security sector, making the resurgence of violence more likely. Thus, these should be addressed robustly.

To start off, the assassination of IEBC acting Information Communication and Technology Manager Chris Musando appears to have all the hallmarks of an extrajudicial execution preceded by torture. Musando was a key actor in the establishment of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS), a secure technology-based system to prevent rigging and ensure secure voting. His demise casts a long shadow over the election. The security sector’s conduct in investigating his death and holding those most responsible (and not just those directly responsible) to account will dictate their commitment to securing the nation.

Further, Raila Odinga, the presidential candidate who leads the National Super Alliance opposition group, has accused the security sector of being a lynchpin in efforts by the Jubilee Administration to rig the election. He demanded answers from the government following reports that the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) were part of the scheme to sabotage elections in the event that they were contested. Leaked internal letters from within the KDF indicate that a number of soldiers would be involved in crowd-control measures in an operation titled “Dumisha Utulivu” or “protect the peace.” KDF Spokesman Joseph Owuoth is alleged to have acknowledged the authenticity of the letters but argued that they were taken out of context. The government, through its Cabinet Secretary for Interior Fred Matiang’i and counterpart from the Ministry of Defence, Raychelle Omamo, vehemently denied the existence of any plan by the military to rig or disrupt the election. They have termed the letters as being fake. Either way, it does little to assuage the suspicion of ordinary Kenyans.

In its findings on the 2007 general election, the Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (the Waki Commission) concluded that one of the main causes of hostility against government actors was the perception that polls had been rigged by government agents. The commission also found credible evidence indicating 1,600 Administration Police officers, in plain clothes, had been deployed by the government to act as agents of the Party of National Unity in opposition strongholds. The Waki Commission also found credible evidence of the existence of police officers on special assignment duty at the Coast province who were used to collate and tally results, notwithstanding this being abuse of public office.

Per the Waki Commission report, another issue was that it was citizens of the poorest neighborhoods who suffered most during the 2007 post-election violence. They found themselves in a quandary because the police, who were entrusted to protect them, were either not present or did not seem to care. In the cases where police were present, they were just as brutal as the marauding gangs.

Women from low-income areas have only just recently called on the state to enhance protection for themselves and their families. They cite lack of confidence in the preparedness of the security sector if violence were to erupt. Per the Waki Report, of 30 women interviewed by the commission, 18 women were attacked in their homes, 7 while fleeing from violence, 3 while looking for their children lost in the prevailing mayhem in their neighborhoods, 1 was dragged out of her house, and the remaining suffered other experiences. Twenty-four of the victims were gang raped. Seventeen rapes were committed by civilians, while seven were committed by state security agents. None of these cases were ever investigated or the culprits brought to justice. The 30 women who appeared before the commission were a tiny portion of those believed to have been attacked during the 59 days of violence that eclipsed the nation.

Although security agents are expected to be neutral in the course of duty, if the KDF conduct, as per the leaked letters, is anything to go by, it fails the credibility or “smell” test.

Kenya’s society is described by the Independent Review Commission (the Kriegler Commission) as one that has long condoned, if not actively connived at, perversion of the electoral process; one that cheers impunity on so long as it seems to benefit the side they support. The Kriegler Commission went on to put it more aptly: "In order to start trying to prevent a recurrence of the tragic aftermath of the 2007 general elections, Kenyans, from President to peasant…will have to show their commitment to the rule of law, and its equal applicability to all citizens irrespective of economic, social and political or any other belief."

From this, there are four critical things the security sector should do to secure the nation from the perilous path it is now on.

First, they should rigorously pursue accountability around all major crimes committed during the electoral period, with the aim of bringing those most responsible to account; second, they should be impartial and resist all efforts to undermine the election specifically from politically motivated actors; third, they should be more readily accountable to the nation before, during, and after the elections on the actions they have undertaken or seek to undertake to secure the nation; and last, they should support and facilitate efforts that lean toward promoting a democratic culture within their rank and file, where merit is embraced and mediocrity is shunned. In this regard, they should support continued reform efforts in order to ensure that public trust in them can be restored.

A strong, accountable security sector that learns from the past and guarantees non-repetition of violations is a sine-qua-non in enabling Kenya to secure a brighter future, where the rule of law, good governance and sustainable peace are its hallmarks. Meanwhile, the government of Kenya must critically work toward a more progressive position around the TJRC Report to also secure the nation’s future. The report is an indictment of past governments, not the present government; as such, there is more to gain from creatively implementing the report in a manner that secures cohesion and reconciliation than “kicking the can down the road” and tempting fate.

PHOTO: Members of civil society groups protest the killing of electoral commission information technology manager Christopher Msando. (Ben Curtis/AP Images)