F&D interviews Zahra Ismail, international observer for The Carter Center (works at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice, School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego ) and was based in Bungoma (Western Kenya), to monitor the Kenyan Elections 2013.
Interview by Clarissa Maracci
F&D: There was a general fear in Kenya, that what happened in 2007 could happen again, but luckily, no violence occurred. Why?
Z.I. : This time several actors were involved in taking all the measures necessary to prevent violence during the polls. Local and International agencies, Political leaders, local government actors, media, and police all collaborated to reiterate over and over messages of peace. The messages encouraged Kenyans to go out and vote but to remain peaceful and trust in the institutions in place that democracy will prevail. Kenya is a proud country and the common feeling was that what happened in 2007 was not to be repeated. The result is that over 12 million Kenyans voted peacefully.
F&D: Violence was generated after the elections in 2007 when Raila Odinga accused the former President of electoral fraud. What was his approach to the result of the pools this time?
Z.I.: This time the elections were run by an independent electoral commission which aimed to work in a transparent manner, and communicated with the public about the challenges that arose, when they arose including the delays in tallying. Raila Odinga even when challenging the results has continuously spread a message of peace: he has shared that he trusts in the judicial system and asks the people of Kenya to do the same.
F&D: Let’s talk about Uhuru Kenyatta, the new Kenyan President. He was charged before the International Criminal Court for its linkages with Mungiki, the local mafia in Kenya. What do Kenyans think about this?
Z.I.: Kenyatta won the election with just over 6 million votes. He is the youngest president of Kenya at 51 years old, son of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta. Regarding his trial before the ICC, the hearings will begin in July, while the case against Deputy President William Ruto will start in August.
F&D: Do you think that western countries, such as the UK are happy with Kenyatta winning the elections?
Z.I. Kenya is a strategic hub in Africa. It is the where the UN headquarters for Africa are located, and is a security ally and regional economic power. Many western countries have interests to secure in Kenya and Kenya similarly has an interest in maintaining good relationships with them, as well as ensuring their economy continues to grow.
F&D: Can one say that now the country is safe from ethnic conflict?
Z.I. : Over 12 million people went to the polls peacefully. We cannot say that therisk of violence is over, there are high levels of crime in many areas, and there have been attacks on buses that have been claimed by Al-Shabab. In the last weeks tensions have increased especially overs social media as Kenyatta’s biggest Rival Raila Odinga has filed a petition to the courts claiming the elections were riddled with malpractice. We have yet to hear the courts verdict on the petition and
F&D: In the last months there were several terrorist attacks in Malindi Coast. Most of the victims were Italian tourists. Are these armed groups part of any Islamist organization?
Z.I. I am not sure whether the groups involved in that attack are part of an Islamist group or not. Kenya’s location is a center point for the transport of weapons to bordering countries and these weapons often end up in the hands of young men, and criminal gangs which exist in the country.
F&D: What is the project of your organization in Kenya?
We have been working in partnership with Cissta Kenya and Chemchemi Ya Ukweli, two community-based NGOs for violence prevention in communities which were affected by extreme violence in post-election period of 2008. The project is focused on Mathare, Korogocho and Kibera, three particularly vulnerable communities in the Nairobi area. The primary goal of the project is to reduce levels of violence, encourage dialogue and facilitate cooperation by building community capacity in violence prevention.
F&D: What is the approach of the project in order to prevent community violence?
Z.I.: The violence prevention program is based on a training of trainers model, focused on ensuring that Kenyan’s themselves are able to effectively and nonviolently prevent conflict. We began the project by conducting a baseline survery to map out public perceptions of violence, and the root causes of conflict in each community. This was followed by an intensive on-the-ground training of trainers with Cissta volunteers from each of the communities. The trainings covered skills and tools in conflict resolution, violence mitigation, community mobilization, action planning, and strategies for civic engagement. Over the month of March 2012, Cissta volunteers conducted their own two-day trainings in their respective communities, focused on building an understanding of conflict and violence, and addressing issues of conflict in their communities order to reduce the risk of violence.
Thank You to Zarha Ismail for releasing this interview.