One of the first things I did as part of my work on the Early Warning Project was to scan the field and see who else around the world was doing what to assess risks of mass atrocities. That research led me to the Sentinel Project and its executive director, Christopher Tuckwood, whose work I continue to follow and admire. I recently emailed a few questions to Chris; here are his replies.
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The evolution of Kenyan politics since its last episode of mass killing, after the country's December 2007 elections, hardly appears promising. In 2013, during a presidential election widely considered freer and fairer than its predecessor, the Kenyan electorate returned to power two of the alleged instigators of the 2007–2008 violence. In 2012, a newly assertive military began operations against al-Shabaab in southern Somalia. In the two years since, the insurgency and its Kenyan affiliates have used the military's operations to justify reprisal attacks in several major Kenyan cities.
In a recent blog on the Huffington Post, Susan Benesch, the Museum’s Edith Everett Genocide Prevention Fellow, discusses the myriad of campaigns and initiatives Kenyans and the international community put in place to prevent violence during the March 4 elections.
Kenyans have every right to be impatient, since they still don't know who they elected president, after standing under the blazing sun for up to six hours on Monday, to vote. Election day generally went well, as in 2007—prior to the outbreak of post-election violence in which more than 1,300 people were killed after that election's results were disputed. This time around, despite a deadly attack on a police station in the coastal city of Mombasa by a local separatist group and reports of voting irregularities, millions of voters cast their ballots peacefully and have been waiting patiently for the results. The count has gone slowly, and finally the electoral commission announced that its electronic vote-counting system had crashed, inspiring rumors that it was hacked.
One can hardly take a walk, turn on a TV, or even visit YouTube in Nairobi now without being bombarded by peace propaganda—rainbow graffiti murals, ads by soccer stars, PSAs, prayers, and of course a music video, “Rufftone and the GSU,” in which rows of troops from Kenya’s General Service Unit sway fetchingly in their combat fatigues and red berets, singing “let hatred not finish us…we forgive and love each other.” The GSU is a paramilitary force that deals with Kenyan civil disorder, for example by beating up students who demonstrated for multiparty elections a few years ago. Kenyans are keenly hoping that the GSU will be able to stick to singing during the national elections today.
In defiance of two arrest warrants and international demand for his surrender, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in Kenya on August 27 to celebrate the nation's new constitution.
At a Museum seminar last year on speech, power, and violence, experts discussed how media, particularly local-language radio and text-messaging, spread hate speech in Kenya prior to and during the December 2007 election violence that left more than 1,000 people dead. Political parties in Kenya divide largely along ethnic lines, and anger over the presidential election results erupted into political violence with ethnic overtones. Human rights advocate Maina Kiai explained (in “Hate Speech and the Political Crisis in Kenya,” PDF), "In cases such as Kenya's, the frustration with the way power is wielded and the overt favoritism that communities whose leaders control the state enjoy, make it easier to fuel tensions and conflicts."