The unheard anger in Kenya’s slums
While politicians play out high-level chess moves Nairobi’s poor struggle to heal the wounds of 2007 and 2017 election violence. Amid police crackdowns, a stifled media and a judiciary who ignores them, where will the rage find its outlet?
After a year of high-stakes political drama, which included a Supreme Court annulment of the 8 August election and the opposition’s boycotting of the repeat poll, there is an ongoing political impasse. Adding to the opposition’s concerns, some of Kenyatta’s advisers are singing the praises of the leadership styles of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. “It seems part of a long-term strategy to help economic development without politics – which is naive in the extreme because the more they take this hard line, the more belligerent the public gets,” says Chege.
For locals like Nancy Wanjiru, trauma is a part of everyday life (see box). Institutions like the judiciary have failed to hold politicians accountable for their role in human rights abuses. So far in 2018, the executive has ignored at least three court orders pertaining to the election, including the exiling of former gubernatorial candidate Miguna.
“The judiciary is at a crossroads,” says former chief justice Mutunga. “They will have to decide if they are on the side of the people or on the side of the regime. Are they on the side of the constitution or on the side of those who violate it?”
This question was foretold by the government’s repeated inability to give closure to survivors of electoral violence. Once again history is in danger of repeating itself. Kenya’s failure to address the 2007 post-election crisis lingers on today in bitter memories and unanswered pleas. “I have submitted evidence and documents, even to the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA),” says Wanjiru. “But no one has come down here to help me.”
The consequences of Kenya’s election cycles keep playing out in places like Mathare, and on the minds and bodies of people like Wanjiru and Okoth. They are also playing out on institutions that are supposed to be staunchly independent due to the widely praised 2010 constitution, which enshrined human rights in law in an attempt to move on from the 2008 violence.
The lessons from experiences like Wanjiru’s are clear and urgent – unless Kenya deals directly with the injustices that come with troubled elections, the disillusionment will be compounded until eventually voters lose faith in the political process altogether.
This article first appeared in the March 2018 print edition of The Africa Report magazine