International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Kenya’s elections: Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst

Update Mar, 9, 2013: IRC emergency teams in Kenya remain on standby following today's announcement of the results of a tense presidential race. A historic 86% of eligible voters cast their ballots on Monday in the first national elections since disputed polls five years ago resulted in the deaths of some 1,500 people and the displacement of more than half a million.
 

By John Harrington Ndeta, media and peace coordinator, Peace Initiative Kenya

 
MOMBASA, Kenya - Four days after casting their votes for the first time since the disputed 2007 national elections, Kenyans remain anxious but calm as they await results.
 
Five years ago, cutthroat competition among political rivals aggravated ethnic tensions that already existed in many parts of the country, leading to weeks of post-election violence that killed nearly 1,500 people and uprooted more than 500,000.
 
Monday’s elections were largely peaceful, despite technical issues that resulted in long queues at the polls and a delay in the vote count. From Mombasa on Kenya’s eastern coast to Kisumu on Lake Victoria, even the “hotspots” of the 2007-08 violence remained relatively calm.
 
This progress owes to the resolve of Kenyans who have been working together to promote peace, says Jebiwot Sumbeiywo, who runs the International Rescue Committee’s “Peace Initiative Kenya” program.
 
In the months leading up to the election, the IRC and our partners in Kenya worked in communities across the country, disseminating messages promoting peace and tolerance through text, radio and social media; training peace activists and police officers on strategies to avoid violence;  and setting up “early warning” violence hotlines and text messaging systems.
 
“Our peace-building efforts have borne fruit,” says Violet Muthiga of the IRC’s Mombasa-based partner Sauti ya Wanawake Pwani (“Voices of Coastal Women”).
 
It’s evident that Kenyans have resolved to live at peace with each other regardless of their political differences. And they are determined to maintain this peace as best they can, in spite of the holdup. 
 
But as tension builds in the hours leading up to the delayed announcement of the presidential election results —- now expected tomorrow —- we are prepared for the worst, even as we hope for the best.
 
“If there is an emergency of whatever nature, we have four excellent teams in Kisumu, Eldoret, Nairobi and Mombasa on standby to intervene,” says Jerotich Seii Houlding, the IRC’s country director in Kenya.
 
Today, Jerotich joined one of the IRC teams delivering emergency supplies to hospitals and other health facilities on the coast, to help them prepare for mass casualties should there be a repeat of the violence of the past.
 
Though uneasiness is evident tonight, all of us hope that no matter what happens tomorrow Kenya’s future will be peaceful.
 

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