Early Warnings of Kenya’s Election Violence

I just returned to Nairobi from the MobileActive conference in Jo’burg to find that the Waki Commission had finally released its in-depth investigation of Kenya’s post-election violence. The Commission’s report reveals that the country’s intelligence service had clearly warned about the possible violence as early as three months prior to the actual elections.

Yet again, specific actionable warnings were communicated and yet again they failed to trigger an operational response, let alone a successful one. Indeed, according to the Commission’s investigation, “the deadliest of the election-related violence could have been avoided had the Government made use of its own intelligence reports.”

The Commission’s findings were just reviewed in Kenya’s newspaper the Daily Nation. Here are some excerpts adapted from the review:

Intelligence reports warned as early as September last year of violence in specified areas. And Kenya’s spy agency even named individuals behind hate campaigns and regions that were affected.

So glaring was evidence of possible violence that the Waki report notes: ‘Given the extensiveness of the intelligence developed and distributed by the service, it was an almost fatalistic realization that no sufficient preventive action would be taken to ameliorate the situation.

One of the security committee meetings noted a worrying security situation in two districts where Kikuyus were being targeted. It observed: “Whichever way the results go, Kalenjins are planning to attack Kikuyus and invade their farms.”

While there is evidence of good information gathering, intelligence preparation and understanding of security issues, there is a weakness in translating this into clear, demonstrable and useful operational intervention.

Kenya’s spy agency went as far as recommending that operational agencies should come up with specific contingency plans, take action against inciters and financiers of criminal gangs and ensure staff refrained from partisan behavior.

The spy agency accurately forecast what was likely to happen should either political party win the presidential elections. A special report entitled “Critical Dates and Events – General Elections 2007” was forwarded to the chairman of the Electoral Commission three weeks prior to the elections.

What are the implications for the field of conflict early warning and response? The Commission’s investigation demonstrates that warning was not the problem, but rather response. The findings show that expensive early warning systems and sophisticated conflict modeling are absolutely unnecessary for accurate early warnings. More importantly, the results of the investigation provide strong grounds for paying more serious attention to conflict preparedness and contingency planning.

Unfortunately, most of the experts in the field of conflict early warning still fail to recognize the importance of integrating preparedness and contingency planning within conflict prevention strategies. As the main argument goes, successful prevention does away with the need for preparedness. Besides we want to prevent conflict, not prepare for conflict. My reaction? Tell that to the 1,333 Kenyans who died as a result of the violence and their loved ones.

We so often fail to respond early and effectively to escalating violence. When are we going to seriously start asking ourselves: what if we fail? What if we fail to prevent armed conflict? Don’t our beneficiaries, local communities at risk, deserve a straight to answer to that question? Are we prepared to tell them that prevention is more important than preparedness when they come face to face with death?

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4 responses to “Early Warnings of Kenya’s Election Violence

  1. Pingback: Crowdsourcing Warning AND Response « Conflict Early Warning and Early Response

  2. Without wanting to play the contrarian, isn’t it the responsibility of those local communities to prevent conflict? Sure, there are external drivers over which they have little control, but we (as external actors) have little control over the internal drivers of conflict. I agree with your main points, but given our track record the question that perhaps we should be asking is whether any of these activities are yielding substantive results in terms of conflict prevention or conflict preparedness. If not, then perhaps the entire model is flawed and we need to come at it from a completely different angle.

  3. Pingback: Conflict Early Warning of Mumbai Attacks « Conflict Early Warning and Early Response

  4. what about the political system that frustrated the effort of intelligence?

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