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Kenya: HRW warns violence in Rift Valley threatens voting

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Ongoing violence in the Rift Valley is causing insecurity and forced displacement that could potentially keep thousands of people from voting in the August 2017 national elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.The US based rihgts group urged authorities to urgently investigate violence in Baringo and Laikipia counties and ensure that law enforcement operations are lawful, and take all reasonable steps to ensure protection for residents.

The Electoral Commission should ensure that polling places remain accessible and operate in safe areas so voting can proceed, HRW said.

“Police failure to enforce the law and contain escalating insecurity in parts of the Rift Valley could have a serious impact on people’s ability to vote in the August election,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at HRW.

The group warned that the credibility of elections in Baringo and Laikipia could be undermined if the authorities fail to provide adequate security to all and ensure that those who want to vote are able to do so.

HRW interviewed human rights activists, government chiefs, village elders, party candidates, victims of intercommunal clashes and village raids, former officials of the elections management body, teachers, and youth leaders in Baringo, Laikipia, and Turkana counties about the ability of the residents to participate freely in the forthcoming elections.

Residents described raids on villages by suspected cattle rustlers and invasions of ranches by herders looking for pasture following a long running drought in parts of the Rift Valley.

Baringo residents said the ethnic Pokot and Samburu herders have in the past faced a similarly serious drought, but the situation rarely resulted in conflict because the government often persuaded private ranchers to allow herdsmen to graze in the ranches until the end of drought.

Residents said they felt that the Kenyatta administration should have tried this approach.

Residents of all three counties said that the authorities have yet to adequately investigate the violence or to prosecute those responsible and that the police are not adequately protecting them from raids, attacks, threats, and intimidation, HRW said.

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