Elections in the United States tend to bring with them some casual partying, maybe a keg stand or two for freedom, some shots for ‘Murica. But ultimately you know you’re going to end up with lady liberty naked in your bed at 1:00pm and a mild hangover; just casual bro shenanigans.
But Kenya doesn’t mess with that banal party swag. No man, when Kenya has an election they rage hard. Like Halloween foam party hard; like someone accidentally delivered a case of Smirnoff at our door the day after finals and bunch of bitches are coming over later to get down hard; like your country has undergone years of forced integration at the hand of colonial powers, resulting in intense animosity and resentment that fractures the country along ethnic and economic lines, rather than a shared nationality, hard.
So Kenya has a history of raging. So what? If raging was a crime we’d all be locked away by now (well, probably not because our dads are rich as fuck and we got swagged out legal representation).
But when Kenya rages, it’s a little different. The last time Kenyans went to the polls in 2007, the results were disputed and ethnically aligned gangs took the lives of more than 1,100 people during weeks of violent unrest.
Also, while raging on college campus is (for the most part) legal, two of Kenya’s presidential candidates this year, Former finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, are due to appear before the International Criminal Court at The Hague in a few weeks, charged with torturing, persecuting, killing and displacing civilians during Kenya’s last election crisis. Kind of like a more intense, internationally condemned form of pledging that ultimately destabilizes an entire region.
Mr. Ruto is generally considered the main instigator of violence, but is revered as a political hero in the Kalenijin ethnic community. Mr. Kenyatta is the son of former President Jomo Kenyatta, hailing from an entirely different ethnic background. The potential for serious violence is as clear as a fifth of Grey Goose premium vodka (which, ironically, also causes mass ethnic raging within the Greek community).
Complicating the already tenuous peace between the two ethnic rivals is the deep inequality prevalent throughout the country. While unemployment in some regions hovers around 40%, the political elite continues to award themselves inflated salaries and perks, again along ethnic lines, even in the face of mass strikes and labor unrest.
A little context: Kenya is an important country for a number of reasons. It has long stood as one of the most industrialized and democratic countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is the cornerstone of US security in the region. So unlike the majority of Africa, the United States actually cares about what happens politically.
Following the mass outbreaks in violence in 2007, the international community, and America, was like, “nah man, screw this noise,” prompting then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to fly into Nairobi and moderate meetings between the two main political factions.
The result was a referendum on a new constitution in 2010 that devolved power and established a “bill of rights,” as well as the Integrity and Leadership Bill (whatever the hell that means) and local tribunals to prosecute suspects of election killings.
But, like most things political in Africa, politicians implicated in the violence blocked the tribunals and other ambitious reforms crucial to avoiding renewed violence in 2013 were not pushed through. Also, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission have yet to release recommendations for remediating previous cycles of violence, stoking the flames of frustration throughout the nation.
This election-cycle Kenyans will vote for the first time for county governors and senators, as per the new constitution established in 2010, which sounds fine, but also could lead to intense competition and rivalry on a local level and raise the chances of violence.
Shit is cray, bro. What can we even do?
Well, there are a lot of things that could be done to alleviate violence in Kenya, mainly expanding access to reliable public services and providing more opportunities to young people to find work. There is also a large role for community organizations to play in working outside of Kenya’s broken political system to affect change on a local level. Kenyan civic groups have also tried desperately to shift the conversation away from ethnic identities, launching a broad public campaign to make the election issue-focused.
In regards to reconciliation, Kenya should seriously turn to their bro South Africa, who’s post-apartheid reconciliation process was arguably the most successful the world has ever seen. But that’s an entirely different story, bro.
While all attention will be turned towards national politics and regional strife, there are tangible things being done in local communities to find ways out of violence for the urban poor.
That being said, ultimately much of the change must happen from the top before Kenya sees a true path forward. Until then, Kenya’s election ragers are just an unfortunate reality.