2022 Kenya Election Problems: A Threat of Bloodshed and Violence Amid Rising Polarization

As hundreds of Kenyans lost their lives during the presidential elections of 1992, 1997, 2007, and 2017, and thousands of them ended up displaced, the electoral process in Kenya has become synonymous with bloodshed and violence.

With the nearing of the 2022 general election in Kenya, the threat of another wave of violence remains high.

The increasing political polarization, Kenya election violence, ethnic conflicts, lack of variety in the media’s discourse, and a prevalence of misinformation demand immediate action from all the stakeholders.

Having one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, if Kenya fails to have a peaceful election, a poor precedent will possibly prevail for the rest of the countries as well.

However, as the president cannot seek another term due to a two-consecutive terms limit, having no predecessor insight, the threat of violence is at an all-time high.

The rift between the Kenyan President and his deputy has only increased overtime, which is likely to foster violence in the elections

The rift between the Kenyan President and his deputy has only increased overtime, which is likely to foster violence in the elections

A Persistent Mistrust between the President and Deputy President

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto have stark differences among them, and this ongoing tussle can escalate ahead of the 2022 Kenya election, resulting in the breakage of the alliance.

This tug of war in the ruling Jubilee Party can shatter the intra-party ranks, resulting in the inevitable emergence of the new parties.

The growing divide between the president and deputy president results from various persisting issues, including the war on corruption and the Building Bridges Initiative of the president.

Deputy President William Ruto also showed strong disagreement over the alliance of the Jubilee Party with the Kenya African National Union.

The deputy president has even decided to part ways with the ruling party, declaring his allegiance to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) for the 2022 Kenya elections.

This ongoing partisan divide is likely to flame the fire in the country during the Kenya election, as one faction of the Jubilee Party will try to take on the other one, creating a further divide in the party lines.

Since 2013, the partnership between the president and deputy president has contained the ethnic conflicts to a great extent.

However, the unfolding situation evinces that this conflict can unveil any time ahead of the 2022 Kenya election.

Violence in Kenya election has become a norm now where police treat the protestors brutally

Violence in Kenya election has become a norm now where police treat the protestors brutally

Election Violence: A Threat to Kenyan Democracy

Kenya has a history of political violence inherited from colonialism and spread through vigilantes and militias. In the 2017 Kenya elections, the police started killing the opposition protestors mercilessly, sparking a response from human rights watchdogs.

Despite the increasing political intolerance, the police need to be controlled by the government to save the public lives and not pushing the situation towards political chaos.

Election violence in Kenya comes from decades-old political manipulation of ethnic tension for the political interest of the ruling class. Amid the persisting chaos, the political elite finds their interests to concentrate power further in their hands.

When Mwai Kibaki won the 2007 election in Kenya, a series of protests against election fraud triggered a violent crisis that resulted in the deaths of 1300 people and the dislocation of more than 600,000.

Even churches were not safe from the violence and were set on fire during the uprising.

A similar situation was witnessed in 2017 when the presidential election was marred by severe human rights violations, including killings and inhumane police brutality against the protestors.

According to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, 24 people were killed in Kenya during the political violence of 2017, with 17 of them dying in Nairobi alone.

The unfolding situation right now is also indicating circumstances no different than the previous years. 

So, only a vibrant and all-inclusive pre-election strategy can save the country from imminent violence.


Concentration of Power in Central Government’s Hands: The Biggest Problem in the 2022 Kenya Elections

The Constitution of Kenya provides overwhelming powers to the central government, with the president being the single most powerful individual in the country.

A winner-takes-all scenario is present in power corridors, forcing the political parties to put their all to reach those power corridors by pitting one against another, creating a societal divide.

Furthermore, states with a wide variety of ethnic groups use the tool of federalism to solve ethnic conflicts and keep political and social stability enact.

Federalism works on the division of power when power is distributed among different segments based on ethnic groups. In this way, ethnic groups could not feel an inferiority complex, which is the biggest reason for an identity crisis. 

Due to the president's sweeping powers in Kenya, the country has a weak application of federalism. As long as this issue is not addressed, the violence in the Kenya elections would continue to thrive.

Sticking with the constitution of Kenya, which allows decentralization of power and the creation of an independent judiciary, all the political parties need to cooperate for the greater interest of the county.


Final Thoughts

Just like Zambia, lack of media freedom is also an issue in Kenya.

Article 19, a human rights organization, released a report in September 2020, according to which nearly 48 journalists faced attacks and harassment while doing their job amid COVID-19.

The media is still suffering in Kenya, as the state interferes in the broadcasts and news publications. According to Macharia Gaitho, chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild, President Uhuru Kenyatta has made several commitments to establish the freedom of the press in Kenya.

However, these promises do not reflect the reality as state interference continues to grow.

Article 33-35 of the constitution of Kenya allows media to freely charge its duties, but it is rarely practiced in reality. The government piles pressure on media houses to silence critical news and commentaries.

The curbs on media have compelled the news outlets to move toward social media. So, when the media only portrays a specific narrative, a politician who devises a solid social media strategy will win the race in the next election.