Every year, since the violence that rocked Kenya in 2007/08 or anytime there is a likelihood of violent political crisis, retired Lieutenant-General Daniel Opande places calls to a few “concerned citizens.” In 2010, I was humbled to receive an invitation from the Lt-Gen Opande to join them. His call marks the beginning of a process of laying out steps to prevent, abate, or contain, violence as each situation may demand.
Last week, two people from the rival groups of Tangatanga and Kieleweke within the Jubilee Party died in politically instigated violence, two years to elections. Such acts of violence are indicators of the inability to implement a set of values to govern political behaviour. Kenya’s Constitution has clear values that need translating into dealing with real situations.
When will Kenyans say never again to politically instigated deaths?
Presently, there is no evidence of open and honest dialogue within and between political parties on preventing violence. Politicians are reluctant to confront divisions partly for fear of upsetting political positions. This has institutionalised the problem, entrenched divisiveness and reinforced hardline positions.
We can no longer pray for politicians to prevent violence. A critical mass of people must ensure individual and community success at preventing political violence. This will in turn set the agenda for the actual 2022 and future election campaigns. If you are that Kenyan who wants to prevent political violence, here are some ideas on how to develop conflict indicators, assess risk and set up political violence prevention plans in your communities.
Create a violence prevention team and ensure representatives of key constituencies such as women, youth and men are included. This will help in getting as many perspectives of the conflict as possible.
Ensure every voice is heard and nobody is sidelined on the basis of gender, ethnicity or religion. Given a safe space, most people will engage in open, respectful and meaningful conversations on the most difficult and delicate of topics.
The method of asking questions based on the five W’s — which, when, what, where, who — and H for how provides a good first step in developing a conflict profile.
Which conflict are we referring to? Which phase is the conflict in? Which factors are encouraging the use of violence and which are reducing it?
When did the conflict begin and how has it developed over recent time?
What is the conflict about? What is its extent? What are the political, economic and social consequences of the conflict? What key things need to happen to prevent political violence or bring about a peaceful solution? For these key things to happen who must do what and by when?
Where is the conflict taking place? Where are the important geographical sites of the conflict?
Who is involved? Who are the primary stakeholders engaged in the actual fighting? Who profits from the conflict? Who loses? Who are the secondary stakeholders influencing the course of the conflict both positively and negatively? Who are external stakeholders not involved directly in the conflict but with interests in how things go? Who are the key people interested in preventing political violence and who must they partner with? Who is influencing whom?
What supportive presence is needed? What long-term structural factors such as inequalities sustain the violence and how can they be addressed? What challenges need a solution? What is causing the conflict not to end? What has already been written about it? What should directly address the issue? How do we gather evidence through shared insights?
Based on the responses the team can build consensus around initiatives and make a disproportionate difference to preventing political violence. The initiatives, depending on sensitivity can be shared publicly.
A violence prevention plan by a diverse team can become the bridge to cross-cultural contact, appreciation of differences, mutual understanding, reduced mistrust, lowered tensions and mitigated conflicts.
It could influence attitude and behaviour change and support analysis on policies, legislation and regulations.
Prevention of violence also relies on enforcement of the rule of law and the team can report incitement to violence to law enforcers.
Having served in Namibia, Liberia and Sierra Leone as wars raged in those countries and represented Kenya in the Mozambique peace process, Lt-Gen Opande knows a lot about why we need to prevent violence.
Every village needs to create violence prevention networks. Above all, political parties must enhance and implement their codes of conduct to end political instigation and violence.
As citizens we can all chip in to prevent political violence and we should!
Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Mukami Kimathi, Mau Mau Woman Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides [email protected]