Kenya: Voters wary of increase in violent crimes in run-up to 2022 elections

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Friday, 8 April 2022 08:33, updated on Monday, 20 June 2022 11:39

A man walks past a banner calling for prevention of violence during the primaries elections in the city of Kisumu, Kenya
A man walks past a banner calling for prevention of violence during the primaries elections in the city of Kisumu, Kenya April 20, 2017. Picture taken April 20, 2017 . REUTERS/Baz Ratner

With Kenya's elections around the corner, the country is already experiencing an uptick in violent crimes linked to shady politicians and criminal gangs. Are security agencies well prepared to tame the wave ahead of the 9 August poll?

Early last month, a video showing motorcycle taxi drivers assaulting a female motorist after she was involved in an accident with one of them, left many Kenyans seething with anger.

The video that went viral caught the eye of President Uhuru Kenyatta who said:  “I have ordered a crackdown on boda boda [operators]. There should never be a repeat of what we saw.”

However, the clampdown was abruptly halted after a few days leaving many Kenyans disappointed. The reason? Politicians turned the operation into a campaign, criticising the government and inciting the riders against security officers in the hope of winning over potential voters in the sector.

Deputy President William Ruto and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga led the onslaught against police officers accusing them of harassing ‘innocent’ boda boda riders. However, the two leaders tactfully avoided condemning the heinous crime committed on the female motorist.

“They waited for me to go abroad to start harassing boda boda riders. Those whose motorcycles have been impounded should go to the police station and get them,” said Ruto, whose remarks were viewed as bordering on incitement.

Raila, on the other hand, took credit for the government’s decision to halt the operation that had already netted hundreds of riders. “If someone is wrong, let them be punished. Police should not harass innocent boda boda operators,” he said, adding that he had to intervene on their behalf to ease the effects of the crackdown.

Remarks by Ruto and Raila anger Kenyans

The remarks by the two presidential contenders angered many Kenyans who accused them of defending criminals in the sector for selfish political reasons.

“In an election year, it is evident that neither of them (Ruto and Raila) has the cojones to hold the bull by the horns when it comes to tackling a sector that has become redoubt for criminal elements,” said veteran journalist Macharia Gaitho in an opinion piece published in the Daily Nation late last month.

Criminals find it much easier to penetrate when they consider that the government is at its weakest point during an election.

It is not the first time that the government has abandoned a security operation midway due to politicians’ selfish interests. In 2017, an operation to clear the streets of hawkers and street urchins in Nairobi and Mombasa – in response to concerns over increased cases of violent crimes – was abandoned as soon as it began due to its apparent politicisation.

History seems to be repeating itself. Already, cases of violent crimes like muggings, armed robberies, cattle rustling and ethnic clashes are  showing signs of increasing as the government softens on operations for fear of politicisation of security matters in an election year.

In Nairobi, for example, criminals are already exploiting the gap to commit various crimes at political rallies organised by various candidates.

When the deputy president conducted a whistle-stop tour of Eastleigh and Mathare slum in February, criminals pretending to be part of the crowd robbed pedestrians and motorists before security officers intervened to prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

In the past 15 years, the country has witnessed a strong link between criminal gangs, elections and violence…

John Mutinda was one of the victims who lost money and a mobile phone after a gang of youths pounced on him with kicks and blows.

“The five men who looked high [intoxicated] on an illegal substance took advantage of the disruption caused by the roadside rally to violently rob me before disappearing into the crowd,” says Mutinda, who is already worried about insecurity ahead of the August elections.

Families left homeless in Laikipia county

Hundreds of kilometres away, in Laikipia County, residents are also concerned. The county, which is known for its wildlife conservancies and expansive cattle ranches, has experienced violence during the lead-up to an election, a trend blamed on politicians fighting for power and influence.

This time round, violence erupted after heavily armed bandits invaded homesteads killing residents and burning houses, forcing hundreds to flee from the volatile region.

Tiati member of parliament William Kamket and former Laikipia North legislator Mathew Lempurkel were arrested for alleged involvement in the violence. The two legislators have since been released.

During their arrest late last year, then Rift Valley County Commissioner George Natembeya said the attacks, which left more than 300 families homeless, were planned within various conservancies where well-connected persons delivered weapons and food supplies to the bandits.

A lot of the big crimes, like corruption, tend to occur especially before an election.

“Some helicopters were seen landing within the conservancies where bandits are hiding. When we started questioning their activities in the areas they vanished,” said Natembeya.

In January last year, Kamket was also arrested over attacks in Kapedo, Baringo County, where at least 20 people, including general service unit officers, were killed.

Despite several arrests and charges in court, Kamket and Lempurkel have never been found guilty of sponsoring violence and the legislators have repeatedly denied any involvement.

More than 40 people killed in Marsabit County

The situation is the same in Marsabit County where clashes between the Gabra and Borana communities, which broke out late last year, have so far killed more than 40 people and left countless properties destroyed.

Saku member of parliament Rasso Dido links the new spate of killings – which have so far moved from the vast rural areas to Marsabit town – to unwillingness by unnamed individuals to implement peace agreements signed between the two communities.

Tribal clashes aside, studies done by the National Gender-Based Violence Network – a coalition of over 20 organisations – have also revealed that crimes against women normally increase during elections.

According to the network, 60 cases of rape were committed during the first voting period in August 2017.

“Some victims were raped simultaneously. Children and husbands were forced to watch as their mothers and wives were being raped,” said the coalition in its post 2017 general election study.

To minimise violent crimes this year, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), a public entity mandated to ensure peaceful coexistence among communities, has mapped out 23 counties as possible hotspots, where extra security measures will be put in place before and after elections.

The regions include Kisumu, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru, Mombasa, Nairobi, Migori, Kericho, Isiolo, Lamu, Bungoma, Kakamega, Vihiga, Trans Nzoia, Marsabit, Kiambu, Nyamira, Homa Bay, Nandi, Bomet, Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Garissa and Siaya.

‘Big crimes occur during elections’

So why do cases of crime increase during elections? According to the director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji, the jump in crime cases ahead of elections has been a historical trend.

“A lot of the big crimes, like corruption, tend to occur especially before an election. Criminals find it much easier to penetrate when they consider that the government is at its weakest point during an election,” says Haji.

He says the workload for the entire criminal justice system will increase this year even as law enforcers ensure the country’s borders remain safe.

Political analyst John Charo says that during elections, sensitive matters like security, cost of living, budgeting and allocation of resources become heavily politicised, which enables unscrupulous politicians and criminals to take advantage of the confusion to incite the public and commit crimes.

“In the past 15 years, the country has witnessed a strong link between criminal gangs, elections and violence as the country’s politics become even more competitive,” says Charo.

Mark Bichachi, a communication strategist, concurs. He says the link between violence and politics in the country is unquestionable and that since 1992, most general elections in the country have been marred by violence sponsored by politicians with close links to criminal gangs.

“A politician may want to chase people from a certain tribe so that he remains with a homogeneous tribe to increase chances of winning an election. […] he may want to give a scary picture so that anybody who wants to vote against him thinks twice.”

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