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Tension and Violence in Kenya Ahead of Elections

Kenya’s elections are not until March 4, but violence is already rising rapidly across the country. The elections, which have been called “complex and pivotal,” will de-centralize power and will elect new leaders for both existing positions and newly created ones.

The New York Times wrote that:

Seven civilians were ambushed and killed in northeastern Kenya on Thursday in what was widely perceived to be a politically motivated attack. The day before, Kenya’s chief justice said that a notorious criminal group had threatened him with “dire consequences” if he ruled against a leading presidential contender. Farmers in the Rift Valley say that cattle rustling is increasing, and they accuse politicians of instigating the raids to stir up intercommunal strife.

The article also mentions a nine-month-old child who was nearly decapitated in a brutal attack, leaving a long scar on her neck.

The article emphasizes the ethnic rivalries within Kenyan society between the Pokomo and Orma tribes. But as was the case in 2007, as MADRE’s Executive Director Yifat Susskind said, “In the case of Kenya, tribal categories are a short-hand for describing people’s unequal access to political power and economic resources.” In an article entitled “Inequality, Not Identity, Fuels Violence in Kenya,” Susskind says:

Thinking of Kenya’s conflict as a class war rather than a tribal war reveals those aspects of the crisis that are about material things: a fight over access to farmland, housing, and clean water. But that explanation alone misses a more complex reality. Because identity is fluid, partial, and somewhat subjective, tribal or ethnic divisions can be calcified, even created, when identity is invoked to mobilize people for political ends.

A coalition of women’s groups formed to respond to the crisis and the misinformation around the violence presented these and similar findings before a mediation team that included then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. But with tensions escalating again weeks ahead of the elections, Kenyan women are preparing once again to deal with the realities of violence and unrest.

Our partner Lucy runs the Nanyori Shelter Network in Kenya, providing housing, education, and a safe haven from female genital mutilation and early marriage for young girls. In 2007, as a wave of violence around the elections swept the country, Lucy and her staff kept the shelters open over holidays and weekends. It was unsafe for anyone to travel, and with incidences of sexual violence and rape wide-spread, it was impossible to send the girls home to their families without putting them at risk. All told, 1,000 people were killed and 650,000 were forced to flee their homes. Women and girls reported 3,500 acts of sexual violence to the police.

Nanyori means “you are loved;” mothers of the girls who stay there named the schools themselves. Lucy and her staff are preparing to provide shelter for their students and others in the community once again as violence escalates ahead of the March 4 elections. MADRE is raising emergency funds to make this possible. You can read more about how we’re working to address the situation, and  go here to help us provide a safe space for women, girls and families throughout the crisis. We’re telling our Kenyan sisters, “You are loved.”

February 22, 2013  / Africa / Kenya / Ending Gender Violence