June 25th 2017

Top Stories / National

As devolution takes hold, violent primaries show allure of power, new political violence

The common denominator in these conflicts is that they were not characterised by ethnic or government/opposition divergences but localised gangs enforcing the political will of their bosses in political contests. And the bloodshed arose often from conflicts over the governorship position.

By Nyambura Muthoninmuthoni@kenyafreepress.comTuesday, 25 Apr 2017 17:04 EAT

Rival supporters clash during a past political meeting in Homa Bay.

Since the start of this election cycle two months ago (when political parties released time-tables for primaries), seven Kenyans have been killed in political violence from such diverse counties as Nairobi, Migori, Homa Bay and Busia. The party primaries that began in earnest two weeks ago have only seen a spike in political violence, raising anxiety among Kenyans about the outcome of the August 8 general elections.

Since the primaries began on April 13 (with ODM), violence has been intense in regions where the main political parties command a strong ethno-centric following, where nomination by the dominant party is like a ticket to the August House or whichever seat the aspirant is vying for. The focus has been on ODM, which was the first party to conduct primaries, but Jubilee has seen its fair share of trouble.

Before the primaries, ODM had lost two supporters in Ruaraka (Nairobi) and one each in Migori and Homa Bay, where supporters of Senator Elizabeth Ongoro and MP Tom Kajwang; Governor Okoth Obado and his challenger Ochilo Ayako; and Governor Cyprian Awiti and his opponent Joseph Oyugi, respectively, clashed at political meetings.

ODM chaos continued into this month, with a nationally televised attack witnessed in Migori on Thursday 20 when the party's training of polling clerks at Rakwaro Seminary was attacked by hired goons. The next day, three people were allegedly hit by goons who intercepted them on their way home, in the same region. They claimed to be stopped at around 9pm by people well known to them who were armed with machetes and demanded to know whom they supported for the Migori gubernatorial race. When they said that they were Ochilo Ayako’s supporters, the attackers started raining blows on them.

The incident came barely a day after four people were seriously injured by youths reportedly allied to Rongo MP Dalmas Otieno disrupted a training session for clerks and returning officers in Rakwaro Secondary School on 20 April. Armed with pangas and crude weapons, the youths raided the session and attacked officials. On Friday, police arrested 19 people to help with investigations. Three kilometers from the center at Ng’ou village, the same group invaded a campaign trail of Dalmas’ rival, businessman Paul Abuor attacking the public and chasing him to his house.

Early this month, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho's bodyguard was shot and injured by one attached to Migori governor Okoth Obado during a chaotic ODM rally where Suna East MP Junet Mohamed was launching his re-election campaign. The rally at Posta grounds was completely disrupted when he arrived unannounced as Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o addressed the crowd. Immediately after seeing him, the crowd booed and threw water bottles, stones and shoes at the podium.

Police also shot in the air several times on 3 April to disperse two fighting groups of youths. The confrontation involved a group allied to Mr Obado. The other was of supporters of Suna East MP Junet Mohamed and former Rongo MP Ochillo Ayacko, who is a governor aspirant. Tension started weeks ahead of the rally. It was not clear whether the function was to open the ODM party office or a campaign launch for Mohamed's reelection. 

The common denominator in these conflicts is that they were not characterised by ethnic or government/opposition divergences but localised gangs enforcing the political will of their bosses in political contests. And, similar to other events described hereunder, the bloodshed arose often from conflicts over the governorship position. In a sense, the devolution of resources to the county level took not only power to the people but also the cut-throat political competition at national level that saw many top leaders politically assassinated.

In Mwatate, Taita Taveta County, chaos erupted at the CDF Hall on 3rd April when a group of rowdy youths disrupted a training session for clerks and presiding officers for ODM party nominations in the county. The youth stormed the sessions at Mwatate CDF Hall and destroyed chairs and tables, claiming that the clerks had been handpicked to rig the nomination process.

The training was stopped as clerks and presiding officers scampered for safety while police were quickly deployed at the scene who dispelled the youth. Mwatate OCPD Francis Mwangi said the youths were complaining that the election officials were drawn from one region and demanded the primaries be postponed to address this. The gubernatorial nomination was one of the most hotly-contested, and presumptive winner Thomas Mwadeghu has petitioned ODM to confirm his victory and hand him the nomination certificate.

On March 23, chaos marred a Jubilee meeting called to pick the party’s Nairobi Election Board at the Bomas of Kenya. Supporters of Nairobi senator Mike Sonko and Starehe MP Maina Kamanda clashed after Sonko and his supporters accused Kamanda of trying to rig the process. Sonko supporter’s stormed out of the Bomas arena and later returned in the company of Sonko before the two camps confronted each other.

A women political convention at Bomas of Kenya on March 10 was disrupted by violence after a government official appeared to campaign for Jubilee. The meeting which was aimed at finding ways of uniting women to speak in one voice in support of their colleagues in politics evolved into a shouting match after Gender Affairs principal secretary Zainab Hussein appeared to ask the meeting attended by an estimated 4,000 women from all parts of Kenya to support President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Jubilee party.

Chaos started when the PS asked Jubilee women in the auditorium to ululate a call that angered supporters of other parties, especially the National Super Alliance (NASA). The women attacked each other verbally as organisers attempted to calm them down. It took the intervention of Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua to bring back order. Ms Karua told the women to avoid disagreements that she referred to as tribal.

In another event, gunshots were fired at Orange house on 5 April to disperse protesters accompanying Sen. Elizabeth Ongoro and 20 MCA aspirants who were protesting and demand fair nominations. A plain-clothed police officer was forced to shoot in the air to disperse the irate crowd, which was roughing up ODM Executive Director Oduor Ongwen.

Ms Ongoro and Mr Kajwang's supporters clashed last month in a violent encounter that left one dead. The incident signaled the looming battle in many ODM-controlled regions for the prized party certificate. Ms Ongoro was barred from running for Ruaraka MP on disciplinary grounds but has accused the party's National Elections Board of malice.

On March 25, supporters of rival Muranga gubernatorial aspirants clashed forcing the election of officials to man the party primaries, forcing the event to be postponed to March 28. Drama ensued after Governor Mwangi wa Iria’s supporters stormed the venue discrediting officials deployed to conduct the exercise. Police were forced to disperse the rowdy youth using teargas.

Chaos broke out at the Mombasa police station as armed police barricaded Governor Hassan Joho supporters from entering the police station when Joho was summoned to the station to record a statement based on the legitimacy of his academic papers. He was accompanied to the station by a smattering of his supporters who complained about Joho being targeted by State House operatives. Scores of supporters breached the road block and attempted to enter the police station where they encountered heavily armed police officers.

Police were forced to use tear gas canisters in Kitengela on April 9 to disperse Jubilee and ODM supporters who had clashed during a rally called by Kajiado governor aspirant Joseph ole Lenku. Trouble started when more than 100 ODM supporters started chanting anti-Jubilee slogans at the Kitengela KCB grounds where the former Interior Cabinet Secretary was addressing his campaign rally. Among the injured were a woman who was fleeing from the chaos and a man who attempted to jump over a perimeter wall of Kitengela stadium.

Still in Kajiado, chaos erupted during the local Jubilee election board selection on March 26 after aspirants from Kajiado North and Kajiado East failed to agree on the list of nominees. The angry aspirants pushed each other and at some point a parliamentary candidate was said to have punched a fellow aspirant. Kajiado County election secretariat was forced to intervene after aspirants failed to agree on the names of people to represent them.

In Busia, one person was killed and scores injured on April 6 after supporters of Funyula MP Paul Otuoma and Busia Governor Sospeter Ojaamong clashed in Funyula moments before Dr Otuoma arrived to address a political rally. The mobs attacked each other with rocks, with women and children being caught up in the crossfire. Hell broke loose when Mr Ojamoong's supporters stormed the venue as leaders allied to Dr Otuoma were addressing the public. Dr Otuoma's sympathisers engaged their opponents in a stone throwing battle and caught of them, whom they gave a thorough beating.

In the chaos that rocked Homa Bay during the last two days, a supporter of Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo was killed, while two party supporters after the announcement of the governorship results - one run over by a car fleeing from the scene of violence, another shot dead by the police.

Another feature of the violence is how easier it has been for Jubilee governors (in Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Baringo, Nandi and counting), to concede defeat, unlike their ODM counterparts who have thrown their counties into crisis in a bid to cling to office (Busia, Homa Bay and Taita Taveta).

Each of the Jubilee governors who have conceded defeat previously served in senior government jobs or, in the case of Kabogo, is a rich businessman, while the ODM governors held low-key government appointments or, in the case of Ojaamong, is a long term oppositionist.

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