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Kenya: Commissions report on violence

NewsNotes, January-February 2009

It has been a full year since violence following the disputed election of December 27, 2007, wracked the nation and fabric of Kenya. After the political agreement between the two major political parties was signed on February 28, with mediation by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, peace slowly returned to the country. However, a total of 1,133 people were killed; over 300,000 were displaced; the tourist industry, Kenya’s main foreign exchange earner, was devastated; and the cost to the economy was estimated to be $1.5 billion. On Christmas Day, over 20,000 remained in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs), and many who have returned to their homes in north Rift Valley Province refuse to rebuild their houses, fearing a future outbreak of violence. Two commissions issued thorough reports, on the election itself and the other on the violence. On December 17, 2008, the government formally accepted these reports and began implementation of their recommendations.

The first report to be issued was on the election itself, and was handed to Kofi Annan by Justice Johann Kriegler, the chair of the Independent Review Commission, on September 18, 2008. Known as the Kriegler Report, it stated that in 2007 the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) mismanaged the election and completely bungled the vote tally. The report recommended that “the commission be radically reformed or replaced, with a new name, image and ethos, composed of a lean policy making and supervisory board, selected in a transparent and inclusive process.”

On December 16, Kenya’s Parliament disbanded the ECK and chose 27 members for a Parliamentary Select Committee, which will spearhead efforts towards adoption of a new constitution. Their first action will be to choose nine members of an Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) to not only replace the discredited former ECK, but also instill confidence in Kenyans regarding the constitutional review process and referendum. They will also oversee implementation of the 12-point electoral reform plan recommended by the Kriegler Report.

Among points recommended by this report are creating a new register of voters, adoption of a new electoral system, legislating a fixed date for elections, establishing an Electoral Dispute Resolution Court, enacting anti-hate speech legislation, enacting an elections law which will consolidate all laws on elections, and enacting an Electoral Commission Act which will set out the functions, management and structure of the new ECK. It will also create a permanent observer group which will review management of the ECK.

The second, more volatile report was issued in mid-October by the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence, chaired by Justice Philip Nyamu Waki. At 529 pages, it was a scathing indictment of Kenya’s political culture of impunity and endemic violence. After four months of touring the places where violence erupted and interviewing hundreds of witnesses, the Waki Commission found the following, as listed by Africa Focus:

  • The initial violence was a spontaneous reaction to the elections results, and was targeted primarily at government property and not intended to injure people.

  • After that, the violence took on a more organized form. Politicians and businesspeople organized and planned attacks, armed tribal militias, and targeted people of other ethnic groups.

  • The police’s failure to act on intelligence, to be impartial and professional, as well as to respond appropriately only made matters worse. Police used excessive force and there was a discernible breakdown in the chain of command.

  • Gunshots accounted for 36 percent of all deaths, the most frequent cause. Police were found to be responsible for all gunshot deaths.

  • The police response was uneven and was far more brutal in Nyanza and Western provinces.

  • Individual and gang rapes, and genital mutilation, of both men and women, were rampant. Police told the Commission that there was no sexual violence, however it was found that General Service Unit, regular and administration police all took part in rapes, including gang rapes. Women bore the brunt of the violence.

  • Government security organizations, such as the National Security Intelligence Service and the Commissioner of Police, are implicated in the violence.

Most significantly, the Waki Commission gave Kofi Annan the names of six Cabinet ministers, five other members of Parliament, and many businesspeople and others, who are alleged to have organized the violence. Names have been kept secret, but if the Kenyan government does not enact a Tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice by March 1, 2009, then Annan will hand the names over to the International Criminal Court at The Hague to be tried there.

In October, a number of politicians, and especially Minister of Agriculture William Ruto, scorned and rejected the report. However, by mid-December, due to pressure from civil rights organizations, diplomats, leaders of all religious faiths and the Kenyan populace in general, both Parliament and the Cabinet unanimously accepted the necessity of implementing the Waki Report.

Kenya’s Catholic bishops said that these reports “have simply brought home to us the gravity of our situation. Kenya is at a crossroads. We can take the opportunity that these reports provide to confront the ‘culture of impunity,’ or degenerate into further crises, ineptitude and moral stagnation. Consequently, we support the implementation of these reports.”

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