Lencer Achieng and Joseph Abanjas’ presence at the launch of the Building Bridges Taskforce report on Monday was both unexpected and troubling. The response of the conference to their message suggests we have far to go before we truly appreciate the dangerous spark of General Elections in Kenya.
Lencer Achieng and Joseph Abanja are the parents of Samantha Pendo Oloo. Baby Pendo was only six months old when several police officers stormed and tear-gassed their Nyalenda home in Kisumu. It took two years for Kisumu resident magistrate Beryl Omollo to find former County Commander Titus Yoma, former OCPD Kisumu East Christopher Mutune, former OCS John Thiringi, AP commandant Kisumu Central Benjamin Koima and Police Inspector Linah Kogei culpable for her death. None of the five officers have been convicted to date.
Given the trauma they have faced, both parents exhibited composure and grace as they faced the powerful politicians at the centre of the toxicity and violence two years ago. Introduced simply as “mama and baba Pendo”, their intervention was spirited, big hearted and light as they appealed to the political class not to forget them as they build new bridges between themselves. The moment passed with some nervousness and laughter. It was like turning this stone was uncomfortable for all present.
Eyewitnesses tell how brave Abanja was, that day. Faced with choking tear gas, he led his wife and children out of their small house into a line of baton wielding officers. Their shouts of “we are unarmed and with children” didn’t matter. Paid by our taxes, bullets pierced homes and officers swung their clubs indiscriminately across several informal settlements. Even innocence under the law is no defence against security officers rampaging through communities in a contested violent election. By the time NASA and Jubilee had declared a ceasefire in November 2017, tens lay dead and hundreds injured.
201 cases of violence, rape and sexual harassment across nine counties also took place between August and December 2017 according to KNCHR. More than one incident of intimidation, assault, rape, sodomy, defilement, assault or intimidation took place daily despite the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Over 30% of the victims were married women. Neither pregnant mothers nor minors were spared. Many of them were gang raped or defiled in full view of husbands, family-members or children. Fifty-six per cent of all these incidents were perpetuated by police officers. Worse perhaps, is that most of these victims have still received no justice.
It must deeply worry us that the Bomas moment this week tragically passed without a formal apology to Pendo’s parents or a moment of silence for victims of electoral violence. It is criminal that most PEV victims are repeatedly denied justice. It is tragic that our collective amnesia and complacency allows us to repeat the cycle. Until we break it, the nation must continue to fear elections.
Preoccupied with “no election losers” thinking, not enough attention is being placed yet in the tremendous behavioural shift required by political aspirants, their supporters and voters. Excessive Presidential or Executive control and influence over the judiciary, independent offices, security services, media and civic organisations is the shortest road to the type of elections we saw in Tanzania this week.
Even before the polls open on Wednesday, the Tanzanian state had been condemned for arresting opposition politicians, banning mass media, throttling the internet and intimidating civic organisations with endless regulations. With claims of widespread rigging on the day, the opposition has already declared that mass democratic action may be their next option.
We must strengthen the BBI proposals to keep the Electoral Commission independent of the political parties and regulate campaign financing. Failure to do so, will further extend decades of post-election deals, vote-buying and the practise of dangling goodies before hungry citizens denied the right to essential services. We must also bring depth to the current blind-spot of civic-policing strategies, civic education and abolishing the Public Order Act.
At US$28.9 per registered voter, Kenyan elections cost six times the global average for elections. Surely, we must expect and demand more from our taxes. As different constituencies deliberate various BBI proposals this weekend, they are best reminded that the wisest of policy-makers design laws for the day their worst enemies take power.
Further, it is not new laws that will banish violent and rigged elections but a fear of real consequences. It is only this, that will make the pain of Lencer Achieng, Joseph Abanja and thousands of other parents, a thing of the past.
This article was also published in the Saturday Standard, October 30, 2020