Preventing electoral violence through early warning and rapid response in Kenya

"Peace is such a fragile product that you can spend years nurturing it, only for it to be brought down overnight like a building demolished by excavators. You can only wake up to the debris. If there is a time when such a thing is susceptible to occur, it's during the general elections held every five years in our country." Mohamed Harun, County Chief Officer, Youth Affairs, County Government of Mandera.

In the past, there has been a lot of violence during elections, which has caused the loss of lives, displaced many Kenyans, destroyed property, and led to loss of livelihoods. “Communities turn their backs on each other; voters are transported in mass from one place to a different place to vote for 'their person'; the elderly are dethroned and dehorned, and all the functioning structures of the communities are suspended. Unfortunately, this often leads to evil people in our midst taking advantage of such a situation by starting conflicts,” observes Harun.

These polling-related incidents are oftentimes an expression of existing and overlapping conflicts, which are frequently influenced by past skirmishes whose wounds haven't healed. In turn, the drivers of these various conflicts are linked to Kenya's deep and persistent fault lines, themselves related to historical, socio-political marginalization and grievances and elite manipulation of identities for political mobilization. However, the collaborative efforts by various peacebuilding actors have played a key role in mitigating skirmishes to address the drivers of violent conflict and strengthen social resilience for peace.

On the 9th of August 2022, Kenyans went to the polls and voted in a largely peaceful manner. On the 15th of August 2022, William Samoei Ruto, Chief of the Order of the Golden Heart (C.G.H.), was announced as president elect. However no larger-scale electoral violence occurred, despite the hotly contested poll, high tensions at the tallying center and the subsequent legal challenge by veteran politician Raila Odinga and his Azimio La Umoja coalition. There were isolated incidents. Voting was suspended in the Eldas constituency of Wajir County due to security concerns following a gunfire incident that halted the transportation of ballot materials. Political differences in counties like Lodwar Town and West Pokot were associated with fighting and public confrontation as the North Rift region has experienced tensions and violence during past elections.

The largely peaceful conclusion of the elections is a big success resulting from enormous efforts by Kenyan authorities, civil society, and international partners. Supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, Interpeace and its partners, the National Cohesion and Commission (NCIC) and the Network for Peace, Cohesion and Heritage (NEPCOH) Trust, supported in-country actors in their efforts to build peace and prevent violent conflicts through their Election Violence Prevention Project in several regions. Active in the counties of Mandera, Wajir, Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Samburu and Laikipia, the ongoing project focuses on the establishment of an early warning and rapid response mechanism and on peace sensitization for the public and electoral stakeholders.

Early warning and rapid response to electioneering incidences

These structures were established across all the project’s counties and its members trained on electoral processes, mediation, and peacebuilding, enhancing their capacity to prevent, mitigate, and manage electoral violence. In total, 106 election and cohesion monitors were deployed to all sub-counties, continuously collecting information and passing it on to three situation rooms. Set up specifically for the electioneering period, these situation rooms processed all reports from the field and forwarded them to an integrated referral and response unit, consisting of government officials, security agencies, civil society leaders and members of local peace infrastructures, for follow-up actions.

Despite the overall peaceful nature of the elections, 21 incidents were picked up by the early warning and rapid response mechanisms. The project enabled rapid response to ten of those, while all others continue to be followed up on. For example, in the town of Konton on the border of Wajir and Mandera counties, a conflict between two Somali clans, the Garre and Degodia, broke out on August 6th, resulting in one death and five injured. Due to contested gubernatorial races in both counties and a history of inter-communal clashes between the two groups, fears were heightened that the upcoming elections would lead to an escalation of violence. However, the local peace infrastructures established in the previous phase were able to mediate the conflict with the support of the project. First, the communities agreed to table their differences until election-related tensions calmed down. The peace infrastructure then facilitated an agreement that entailed compensation payments and formal apologies, initiating a reconciliation process between the two groups.

Meetings were held to prepare the community for the elections and to train election monitors, who helped keep an eye in case of political violence. During the campaign period the county ceasefire monitoring committees (CMCs) were used to set up an early warning system for conflicts and a quick response system. The importance of the local peacebuilding infrastructures, in the elections and beyond, was emphasized by various stakeholders. Speaking during a training session, Chief Biashar, CMC Chairman highlighted the need to build on peace structures.

"We talk of addressing development in our communities, yet we overlook peace and its importance. What kind of development can we achieve without peace? I would suggest we focus all our energies and resources on building peace structures like CMCs and making them a fully functional peacebuilding body of their own, rather than investing resources in other unimportant development projects by our government. Peace should be prioritized above all. Once consensus is established, and its structures are in place, we can only discuss development.: said Chief , Ceasefire Monitoring Committees Chairman, Banisa

Training and advocacy for peaceful elections

In the run-up to the elections, NCIC, NEPCOH Trust and Interpeace planned and coordinated sensitization workshops, disseminated peace messages in local areas using branded materials, ran peace caravans, and advocated with political candidates to sign peace charters. All these efforts were geared towards garnering and sustaining commitment to peaceful elections by stakeholders across all levels of society.

In Mandera and Wajir counties, numerous stakeholders, who included local media houses and the youth, were trained on topics covering pro-peace messaging around the ‘Elections Bila Noma’ (“Elections without problems”) slogan, conflict-sensitive reporting, management of hate speech, and electoral alternative dispute resolution (EADR) mechanisms.

Following previous years where ‘boda boda’ (motorbike) operators instigated skirmishes in urban centers, a peace roadshow in Kapenguria and West Pokot under the ‘Elections Bila Noma theme was organized. Hussein Yussuf, the Mandera Chief Officer for the Department of Conflict Management, Cohesion, and Integration talked about the need for peace during the election period during a road show in Mandera.

"Peace is a very vital organ in our community. Like the heart organ in the body, peace is the kernel of our existence. Without it, all the other aspects of our lives are doomed! We must work extra hard during this electioneering period to make sure our communities will have peaceful elections and smooth transition of power to the new administrations," said Mr Hussein.

In prioritizing peace for all and in building structures to maintain stability, a particular focus on youth, women and marginalized groups is necessary for ensuring viability and sustainability. To effectively prevent, mitigate, and manage electoral violence and disputes, and decreasing the chance of escalation, women were therefore specifically targeted in various pieces of training and engagement. For example, they were often called to participate in numerous radio talk shows as key opinion leaders.

In addition, county prayer days, bringing together religious leaders and political candidates were facilitated. In a move to hold leaders accountable for their conduct during the general elections, political candidates, county commissioners, and the representatives of peace stakeholders signed peace charters across the . Chief Abey, a member of the CMC in Banisa reflected on the significance of collaborative peacebuilding efforts by stating, “Electioneering periods have always spelled doom for our people, especially along the Mandera North-Banisa corridor due to the memories of the past that the elections unearth. We have lost lives, properties, and livelihoods in elections due to the perennial clan conflicts between Garre and Degodia living along this corridor. Although this election is all about party politics and individual interest than clan affairs, we pray that we won’t have the repeat of what we had in the past. Our county and its people will blossom once we prioritize peace over everything.”

In Kenya, the focus of Interpeace’s work historically has been on peacebuilding at the community level in the north-eastern part of the country (Mandera and Wajir Counties) and, more recently, the North Rift Region. Its efforts to build peace are aimed at fostering equitable solutions to share power and resources; increasing and maintaining social cohesion among communities with long-standing and ongoing grievances; improving trust and cooperation between security actors and Kenya's public and helping to create new opportunities as ways to keep peace in Kenya after the elections.













Voices of the People: Impediments to Peace and Community Resilience in Wajir County

Shaping Future Peacebuilding

Entitled “Shaping Future Peacebuilding”, the annual report illustrates how the obstacles and challenges we faced in 2020, especially the multidimensional COVID-19 crisis, did not hinder our work worldwide, but instead strengthened our adaptability and resilience. It also strengthened our determination to learn and to build stronger and more effective peace solutions in the years ahead with the communities that we serve.

The report highlights some remarkable impacts both on the ground and at the policy level. From enhancing safety and security in Libya to fostering individual and community healing and social cohesion in Rwanda, we are very pleased with these achievements that have planted the seeds of sustainable peace and development, and that are made possible by the tireless efforts of our own teams and partners. Globally, we have continued creating incentives and shaping policies for peace processes to be more fit for purpose. We are particularly delighted to have launched the Principles for Peace as an innovative, collective and global effort to create norms and principles to guide future peace efforts.

The global pandemic highlighted, more than ever before, the link between health and peace. Yet, we have observed that the link has not been explored to its full operational and policy potentials. In 2020, we invested in a better understanding of the concept of Peace & Health and its implications, building on our institutional partnership with the World Health Organisation and the added value of our ‘peace responsiveness’ approach through which we are creating better quality peace-oriented policies and practices of the international system.

Why Peacebuilding should be part of the COVID-19 response

COVID-19 has taken the world by surprise and upended life as we know it, introducing looming uncertainties. As we unite in fighting the rapid spread of the virus, we must also recognize that the consequences of the pandemic go beyond medical and public health. The crisis is unique because the direct solutions and ameliorative public health approaches have the potential to be highly conflict-inducing. Thus, the integration of peacebuilding approaches into international responses to COVID-19 is now a matter of urgency.

This briefing paper, Peace and Conflict in a COVID-19 World – Implications for International Responses, summarises ten framing aspects of the crisis and offers three implications for international actors responding to it. Our collective understanding of the causes and solutions to the crisis will determine how we respond to the crisis. While much is uncertain, it is clear COVID-19 is both a multidimensional crisis and an opportunity for change. The key question before us all — especially local and international humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding actors — is how to leverage opportunities for positive change and manage the potential risks?

It is clear human-centred and cooperative approaches which are at the core of peacebuilding work are needed. Peacebuilding approaches of local ownership and leadership with a long-term resilience focus are critical to embed into technical health responses, as well as broader socioeconomic responses to COVID-19. The way in which these approaches are integrated into national and international responses will be critical not only for the technical success of those responses, but also to understand whether they support peace or might exacerbate new or existing grievances already triggered by the pandemic.

Photo Credit: UN/ Isaac Billy

Early in the crisis some referred to the pandemic as a “great equalizer,” but as the disease evolves, it is increasingly apparent that it is anything but equalizing. COVID-19 threatens broader peace and stability by exacerbating persistent political, social, and economic structural inequalities that render some groups more vulnerable than others. In many contexts, it is reinforcing patterns of inequality and grievances that erode the social contract between individuals and communities with the states that represent, govern, and protect them.

We need resilience approaches that can enhance positive local capacities, skills, and attributes, and enable communities to not just ‘bounce back’ but ‘build back better.’ These conflict sensitive, locally owned, and peace responsive peacebuilding approaches are highly cost-effective and sustainable. They must not be sacrificed due to short-term reallocation of funds to what is deemed as “immediate” pandemic responses. Short- and long-term responses to COVID-19 must be aligned.

Thus, the question of how peacebuilding approaches are integrated into the multidimensional humanitarian and development actions of governments, INGOs and UN actors — or not — is not theoretical. The extent to which international humanitarian and development responses are conflict sensitive and peace responsive to the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 will be critical in determining how successfully those interventions contain the virus. The opportunity for transforming conflict dynamics and patterns of structural violence in this moment is significant and can be driven through operational peace responsive approaches.

As a next step to this briefing paper, Interpeace is developing recommendations and practical actions both for its own peacebuilding policy and programming and to inform the policy, programming and coordination of other international peacebuilding actors. They will be published on this website in the coming months.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

Read the full briefing paper: here 

Partnership beyond projects: the importance of local ownership and trust

Interpeace and the Centre of Studies for Peace and Development (CEPAD) have worked together since 2007, supporting peacebuilding processes in Timor-Leste. Our partnership began in response to the violent political crisis of 2006, which revealed the challenges of a young nation adopting a new system of state structures. Throughout the years, we used Participatory Action Research (PAR) and piloted innovative approaches to assessing local resilience (Frameworks for Assessing Resilience) to help break cycles of violence and create a safe environment for the Timorese. This work enabled bottom up and locally owned solutions to be formulated, to identify and address local grievances in a non-violent and sustainable manner. CEPAD is now considered a “go-to” organization for peace and development challenges, and is recognized for promoting inclusive democracy by providing safe spaces for community dialogue.

In 2019, a case study of Interpeace’s long-standing partnership with CEPAD was developed as part of the Stopping As Success (SAS) initiative – a collaborative learning project that aims to study and provide guidelines on how to ensure locally led development and peacebuilding. The SAS initiative touches on many of the core principles Interpeace was founded on – local ownership, long term commitment, process-oriented work and the primacy of trust as a keystone to peace. ‘Success’ in locally led peacebuilding work can be defined in many ways, and an organizational or programmatic exit of an INGO or International Organization in lieu of successful and sustainable local organizations is one important indicator. However, a larger understanding of ‘success’ in locally owned peacebuilding ought to ultimately be about whether the broader social contract is moving towards peace. As peacebuilders, Interpeace and our partners always aim toward that ultimate goal.

In order to achieve sustainable peacebuilding processes that reinforce a peaceful social contract we have long known local ownership and not internationally driven approaches is key. While this has long been recognized, operationalizing local ownership of peacebuilding remains an ongoing challenge. That is why the SAS case study ,“Centre of Studies for Peace and Development (CEPAD) and Interpeace: A partnership transition in Timor-Leste, is an instructive example of the practical steps international actors can take to support the  efforts of a locally led organization developing locally owned and inclusive peacebuilding solutions.


CEPAD Timor-Leste. Photo credit: Steve Tickner 2009

CEPAD Timor-Leste. Photo credit: Steve Tickner 2009


Fostering local ownership through sustainable partnerships  

For over 25 years, Interpeace’s approach has made sure that local people are at the heart of building peace. We believe that peace must be built from within societies and not imposed from the outside. Therefore, from the outset of our partnership with CEPAD, we put our trust in our partners local teams  to lead the strategic management and implementation of project activities. Interpeace provided ongoing technical , financial and capacity-building support to CEPAD, since its creation in 2007. However, in 2015, Interpeace began a process to phase out its financial support to remain engaged with CEPAD solely in an advisory capacity.  While Interpeace provided financial and technical support as well as supported the development, implementation and evaluation of projects, delivered ongoing training to CEPAD staff, CEPAD was in the driver’s seat.

A CEPAD staff member mentioned, “Interpeace stopped the funds in 2016 but the relationship continued. Whenever we have any difficulties, we contact Interpeace and get their ideas and comments on our work and situations that we are facing.”

The case study developed by SAS captures how Interpeace’s approach – working with local partners and committing to long-term engagement – is critical to ensure sustainable peacebuilding efforts. It highlights that the trust that was built during almost a decade between Interpeace-CEPAD, helped both organizations as Interpeace transitioned away from providing financial support.

A number of key lessons were also mentioned by the case study: a.) strong leadership is an important factor when creating and sustaining an NGO that can operate successfully when financial support from an INGO partner ends; b.) adopting bottom-up, locally led models from the outset – as opposed to time-bound, top-down projects – contributes to a more sustainable transition process; and c.) it is possible for INGOs to find creative ways of continuing to support locally led organizations and initiatives after transitions have concluded.

CEPAD Timor Leste. Photo credit: Steve Tickner 2009

CEPAD Timor-Leste. Photo credit: Steve Tickner 2009

Read the full case study or 2-page summary

Read here for more on why local ownership is important for peace and for brief examples of tools and approaches to enable local leadership and ownership.

Local Leadership to Local Ownership - An Essential Element for Effective Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention