Violence is synonymous with elections in Kenya. There hasn’t been an election in the recent past where tensions didn’t simmer, boil over and eventually lead to deaths, including those of innocent children. The violence is of varied forms; hired goons by politicians, sore losers, criminals taking advantage of the mayhem and police using excessive force, firing stray bullets and killing innocent people.
It’s distasteful to the point that people temporarily relocate during elections. People go to their rural areas in fear that their neighbors of the other tribe could turn against them because of their competing candidates. Those who are privileged move their families out of the country for that period.
When the BBI was being pushed, they mentioned again and again that it was is about shared prosperity, uniting the country and ensuring peace during elections. Others went further to suggest that if the BBI didn’t pass it would result in chaos and bloodshed in the next election. But was it true? Was the fate of our nation in that document whose process was stopped by the courts? Had we properly diagnosed the causes of violence during elections?
You see violence is a political card, and it is ever in play in our election cycles, even in seemingly insignificant by-elections and we must address it because it’s detrimental to the social and economic order in our country.
But can we really achieve this peace?
Well, maybe. You see, we have been talking about peace so much forgetting that it is a direct descendant of justice, if not identical twins. They are interdependent. You cannot truly achieve one without pursuing the other.
And that has been our challenge in Kenya, preaching peace while turning a blind eye to atrocities or wishing them away, assuming that since the leaders have moved on, everyone else has also moved on. But it’s not that easy.
If the victims of the last election violence are still crying for justice, what do you expect to happen in the next election when organizers, inciters and perpetrators – some of whom are well known – are still in the communities? They are now feeling like they are above the law, invincible, and with the ‘right’ motivation, they would spring up to action again. People can only enjoy their peace and quiet when they know that offenders have been dealt with. Otherwise, it’s constant fear and premonition of imminent danger every election year.
But when no action is taken, injustice becomes the norm and breeds more impunity. It emboldens perpetrators to continue in their crime, they believe they are untouchable and it becomes their way of life.
Prolonged injustice also pushes victims to take matters into their own hands. With time, people get tired and decide that retaliation is their only reprieve. The problem with retaliation especially in election violence is that it is indiscriminate and always ends up hurting more innocent people. It is wrong but when justice delays, it unfortunately leaves a vacuum in which evil thrives.
The bible in Ecclesiastes 8:11 says that ‘When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong’. Here is your answer for election violence. It is also your answer to why there’s more and more embezzlement of public funds.
Even people who had no plans of doing wrong start doing it when they see their bosses, colleagues and friends getting away with it. When you hear people saying “everybody does it” in response to a question on their integrity, just know that morally, that organization/society is on a spiral downwards.
Swift justice fixes a society because it sets an example for everyone but the impact of discouraging first time perpetrators is even more significant.
It is justice in the ballot (where every vote should count), justice in distribution of national resources, justice in the appointment of government officials, justice in employment opportunities, justice in land issues, justice in government tenders, justice in payment of suppliers, justice for victims of election violence that will fix this country.
This is why a functional and independent judiciary is non-negotiable.
If the BBI was truly about peace, then it would have pursued justice and compensation for all victims of election violence. This is because the political schemes that led to deaths in the last election are the same being employed now in campaigns and in the recent by-elections. Violence as a political card, is still very much in play. Nothing has changed. Different times, same hearts. Perpetrators of election violence need to be checked. They should answer for their crimes because they will not allow us to have peace.
As Pope Paul VI said during the 1972 World Day of Peace celebrations, “If you want peace, work for justice.”