Elections in Kenya: do or die race

The Start Network is enabling aid agencies in Kenya act early to mitigate the risk of election violence, in a new way of working for the humanitarian sector.

People in Kenya went to the polls on Tuesday to vote in a fiercely contested presidential election, which in the last week of campaigning saw the murder of top election official and claims of vote rigging. In Kenya in 2007, when the election result was disputed, more than 1,000 people died and 600,000 people were displaced.

The country is braced for violence whichever way the vote goes, with communities, authorities and aid agencies working together to prepare for the result, which is expected within the week.

Aid agencies are being enabled to work in a new way to prepare for unrest; they are using information to identify hotspots for potential outbreaks of violence and have accessed funding to act early. This work is being enabled by the Start Network, an international network of 42 aid agencies, which is aiming to create a system that is more proactive and less reactive to predictable crises.

Work began in July 2017, when ActionAid, Islamic Relief, Trocaire and World Vision conducted an inter-agency context analysis  ahead of the election. The analysis consulted more than 300 people across seven identified ‘election hotspots’ for potential outbreaks of electoral violence (Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Mombasa, Garissa, Isiolo, and Marsabit). The analysis tool used, supported here by the Start Network’s Analysis for Action Grant, is new and is designed to be flexible, so that can be used in unpredictable and conflict-prone contexts.

The findings of the analysis triggered a Start Fund anticipation alert, a mechanism created to enable aid agencies to respond rapidly or in anticipation of crises around the world. Start Network members agreed to release up to £300,000 to fund projects to help prepare for potential election violence. Start Network members in Nairobi then met on 24 July to review the project proposals, and decided to fund a consortium project, comprised of eleven* Start member agencies and led by ActionAid.

Agencies are now working to prepare for unrest by strengthening coordination between organisations, monitoring indicators of potential violence, such as hate speech, as well as the possible mass movement of people. Agencies are also working with faith leaders to promote peace and dialogue, setting up child friendly spaces, providing information and working with communities to develop their own plans and identify safe spaces where they can escape to should violence erupt.

Bijay Kumar, Executive Director, ActionAid Kenya said: “We are hoping for the best but we are prepared for the worst. Our Start Network project, for example, is enabling eleven agencies, including Doctors of the World and World Vision, to find ways to anticipate crises in Kenya and then act in advance to mitigate their impact. This includes monitoring tensions in seven counties, with a particular focus on women candidates, women agents, and women electorates.”

Muktar Wardere Mohamed, Head of Office Mandera, Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “The Start Network has developed a proactive approach towards election preparedness and response; thanks to this, The Norwegian Refugee Council has put into place a standby response team, prepositioned relief items, and is ready to respond in the county of Mandera in case of violence. We can intervene in water and sanitation, unconditional cash transfers, shelter items, and protection of vulnerable people. By granting us funds prior to the election, the Start Fund has helped us plan in advance and enable us to respond immediately to those most at risk.”

Sean Lowrie, director of the Start Network, said: “Intervening before a crisis saves more lives than waiting until it hits. By acting early in Kenya and by working together, we hope agencies on the ground are able to do just that and spare avoidable suffering. This is a core part of our ambition to make humanitarian aid more effective.”

Elections in Kenya have a contentious history, tied to ethnicity and tribal affiliation. Shortly after the 2007 elections, ethnically motivated violence broke out throughout the country which took the lives of more than 1,000 people and displaced as many as 600,000 people. The 2017 election has been described by some respondents as a “do or die race”** with extremely high stakes especially for the presidential elections. For the incumbent, President Kenyatta, this is his final attempt to run for presidency due to constitutional restrictions on and term limits. It is widely assumed that the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, will not run again.

While ethnicity remains a critical factor in this election, many other unresolved tensions from 2007 have surfaced. Historical issues between and within tribes, land ownership, and grazing disputes are compounded by what some say is one of the worst droughts to hit Kenya in recent decades.

The Kenya anticipation alert is supported through the Start Fund Crisis Anticipation Window which is enabling Start Network Members to respond to crises before they turn into a disaster.

The Start Fund is backed by the British, Dutch and Irish governments and the European Union. The Start Fund Anticipation Window is supported by the European Commission’s humanitarian aid department.

Read more about the Start Fund.

Read more about the Start Fund Anticipation Window.

*Agencies involved are ActionAid, Norwegian Refugee Council, Action Against Hunger, Concern Worldwide, Doctors of the World, Christian Aid, Dorcas, World Vision, Trócaire, ACTED, Handicap International

**Quote taken from the inter-agency analysis conducted in July 2017.

14 August 2017

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