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Column: 'Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst' amid Kenya election fears

Five years ago, over 500,000 people were displaced and more than 1,500 killed in post-election violence in Kenya. Now, NGOs are working to manage humanitarian situation ahead of the country’s next election this Monday, writes Ivy Ndiewo.

Ivy Ndiewo

WITH LESS THAN a week before the first election under Kenya’s new constitution, fear and speculation are at an all-time high that what happened in 2008 could be repeated, even escalated. The results of the last general election in late 2007 were immediately disputed, and soon the nation exploded into weeks of political and ethnic violence, leaving over 500,000 people displaced and more than 1,500 killed. I remember those grim days like they were yesterday.

A lot has been accomplished since 2008; the new Constitution is in place and it empowers the public to know their rights and at the same time it up-holds the reforms that Kenyans have been advocating for. The 4 March polls are do-or-die for Kenya, it is so important that we must get it right as the alternative is not an option.

‘Violence was rampant’

I remember I was in my rural home of Kisumu, Western Kenya, when the 2007 violence begun, it was a sombre mood and people were in tears after the announcement of the presidential results, it never occurred to me how explosive the situation could turn out to be. I witnessed youths barricading the major road to protest the results, families displaced, women and children going hungry and suffering in the cold while in the camps the food supplies dwindled and became more. The poor were most affected as violence was rampant in the informal settlements.

This time the government, international and local non-governmental organisations are all working effortlessly to manage humanitarian situation. Peace concerts, media adverts, many politicians are all preaching peace. As a result of these efforts some people, particularly those in the middle class, believe that violence will not happen. While I hope they are right, and in many ways I agree with this school of thought, I do believe that Kenya may experience spots of localised violence in various regions depending on the outcome of the elections. This will either be as a result of rigged election or unprecedented outcome.

I am, however, optimistic that the skirmishes will not be to the magnitude of the last polls because the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the body charged with managing the election has promised Kenyans that the process will be open and fair.

Despite reassurances, tensions are increasing

However, with indications of increasing tensions up in some areas, the majority of Kenyans are cautious. Kenya’s neighbouring countries are stocking food and travels advisories have been issued by various organisations, terming Kenya as a ‘no go zone’ until after the 4 March. In anticipation of violence and airing on the side of caution humanitarian organizations are prepositioning humanitarian needs and Concern Worldwide is taking lead in nutrition intervention for Nairobi.

No matter how much we prepare, I can’t help but worry, as a humanitarian and a Kenyan. The memory of 2008 is still very much on the surface for all of us. I just hope that it stays as a memory and does not spill over into reality. Until Kenya heads out to the polls on 4 March, we will continue to prepare and hold our breath until.  Kenya is a beautiful and a strategic country in the region, If only the public can uphold Article 10 of the Constitution on national values, then election should not divide the country.

The presidential candidates in their first debate pledged to accept defeat and use the courts in the case of any disputes, but it is my hope that they will also manage their supporters in an event of an electoral loss.  As a humanitarian community we stand prepared, but we welcome an outcome that would require us to put none of our plans into action. And as my Country Director said – we are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

Ivy Ndiewo is trained journalist and currently the Communication and Documentation Officer at the Concern Worldwide Kenya office, where she is tasked with effectively communicating Concern’s purpose, achievements and support advocacy across a wide variety of audiences within Kenya. She has been instrumental in designing and implementing the communication plan for the organization, and is also member of the communication working group of Humanitarian organisation in Nairobi, Kenya.

Concern Worldwide first began working in Kenya in 2002, and continues to work with urban and rural populations to improve health, livelihoods and education. You can find out more about Concern’s work in Kenya by visiting www.concern.net

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Ivy Ndiewo

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