Tag Archives: Kenya

Can Civil Society Prevent Election Violence?: Burundi IT Election Warning Project

By Tadakazu Kanno (PhD candidate, the Department of War Studies, King’s College London) 

Patrick has already written about the impending violence regarding the coming elections in Sudan in this blog (“Sudan: An Early Warning of Impending Conflict”).  I also came across a similar article posted on Alert Net, which is titled “West silent over Darfur crisis despite risk of spiraling violence”. In fact, this is not the first time I came across early warnings of election violence. The BBC’s article “Kenyans rearming for 2012 poll” (dated 07/October/2009) warns that “rival ethnic groups in Kenya who fought after the 2007 election are rearming in readiness for violence at the 2012 poll.” The International Crisis Group’s report (dated 01/October/2009) “African Peace-building Agenda: “Nigeria Needs to Prevent another Electoral Debaclesays that “Nigeria and its international friends need to act urgently and concertedly to prevent another electoral disaster in 2011.”  The significance of the prevention of election violence is obvious if we look at the 2007 Kenyan post-election violence, which claimed over 1,000 lives and 300,000 people were displaced.

The source of the photo: the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/8293745.stm)

Actually I wasn’t looking for these early warnings, I happened to find them. So it is possible to infer that there are plenty of early warnings regarding potential collective violence. In the field of early warning and early response, it is commonly accepted that there are plenty of warnings but the problem is that warnings are not followed by preventive actions (so called “warning-response gap”). About 15 years ago, Michael Lund was arguing in his book “Preventing Violent Conflicts” that:

 “early warning occurred in several instances but did not precipitate any action. Strong expectations of potential conflict or even the outbreak of violence were not in themselves sufficient to generate preventive action. For example, fighting and grievous human rights violations in northern Somalia were widely reported by human rights organizations as early as 1988 yet provoked no response; International Alert disseminated a fact-finding report and recommendations regarding the Russia-Chechen disputes to the United Nations and other bodies in 1992, but no action followed; in the Danube River dispute between Hunagry and Slovakia, the disputants issued several requests for mediation assistance long before any third party stepped forward (p.81).”

 David Nyheim’s report published in 2009, however, argues that :

 “the field has evolved significantly since its initial conceptualization, and early warning has been integrated into the policies of many organizations. Today it cannot be said, however, that the international community is in a position to prevent another Rwandan genocide. Conflict early warning faces challenges similar to those it faced 15 years ago…(p.13)”

 Are we going to repeat the same mistakes in those elections? There is good news from Burundi, where elections will also be held this year and people fear that violence regarding the upcoming elections may occur. The African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) of the Friends Peace Teams set up a community-based early warning and response project to prevent election violence (Burundi IT Election Warning Project). In the project, a wide network of monitors reports the symptoms of the tension between ethnic groups and violent incidents regularly by using mobile phones and they also plan to avert the tension on the ground through interventions. I’m happy that a civil society organisation started to take an initiative in election violence prevention.

 But, we must understand that civil society is not an all-around player. Generally speaking, it may be difficult for civil society to prevent post-election violence by using an early warning and early response mechanism due to the following two reasons. (Although we must think about violence during election campaigns, I would like to focus on post-election violence).

  1. What civil society can utilize for their interventions is dialogue.
  2. The results of elections are not negotiable.

 As you can imagine, “dialogue for something unnegotiable” is not easy. Most of the disputes between conflict parties are negotiable (it is the case especially at a community-level like the use of land), but the results of elections cannot be changed unless there was violation in election campaigns. If it is difficult for civil society to prevent post-election violence, it may be a good idea to work with law enforcement agencies who possess coersive power to stop violence. However, it is questionable that law-enforcement agencies function rapidly and impartially even if early warnings are wired to them. What is even worse is that they are actively involved in violence in some occasions. The International Crisis Group reports that in the 2007 Kenyan election violence, police officers have taken sides and used terror tactics.   

 Then, how can we enhance the capacity of civil society in early warning and especially in early response (interventions) to prevent election violence? In this regard, the vision of Burundi IT Election Warning Project is to the point:  

 An alternative strategy is to address violence on the level at which it is carried out, building trust and relationships at the grassroots level that would weather possible calls for violence coming from political elites. Such relationships have prevented violence in communities in the past, as is evident from the regional variation in levels of violence as well as from the stories of the prevention of violence by local leaders and citizens who refuse to take part and encourage others to do similarly. 

Such interventions are only possible, however, where people have been able to reconcile “ethnic” differences and healed the trauma in their hearts that is the basis of Hutu-Tutsi animosities. Otherwise, the “ethnic” division stirred up for political gain in an election falls on receptive ears and ready hands, motivated by frustration and anger or fear.”

 What is significant, therefore, is to create an environment where calls for non-violence are heard and accepted by people even when politicians call for violence. This can be a platform for successful community-based early warning and early response (CBEWER) systems like Burundi IT Election Warning Project. It is a long term approach to create the environment by connecting people from different ethnic groups and enhancing inter-ethnic activities. Although it sounds natural, the greater people’s will for peace is, the greater the chance of success in conflict prevention is. CBEWER systems would function more effectively if they are established  on the foundation of long term confidence-building approaches.

 Burundi IT Election Warning Project is now collecting mobile phones. The collected mobile phones are going to be used by the field monitors in order to report violent incidents on the ground. By donating mobile phones, you can contribute to the prevention of election violence in Burundi. As I just introduced part of the project, if you like to get the whole picture of the project, please visit their website.




Crowdsourcing Warning AND Response

I’ve spent much of the past two weeks hanging out with the Ushahidi team in Kenya and South Africa. When the team invited me to join their Board of Advisers last month, I was honored and gladly accepted because Ushahidi’s crowdsourcing crisis information approach is both innovative and promising. The project was figured in Kenya’s leading national newspaper, the Daily Nation, just yesterday.

During this week’s MobileActive conference in Jo’burg, Ushahidi’s Program Director, Juliana Rotich, conveyed to me the team’s strong interest in prioritizing early response after they release Ushahidi 2.0 next month. Juliana described the difficulty they had in convincing NGOs in Kenya to make use of Ushahidi during the post-election violence in order to map human rights abuses and share information. “We’ve got a major coordination problem when it comes to NGOs, not only for information collection but also response.”

I emphasized that the novelty of Ushahidi’s approach vis-a-vis humanitarian early warning is crowdsourcing; meaning I would not place emphasis on NGOs per se. One of the persistent problems with the field of conflict early warning and response is that those most in need of early warning, local at risk communities, seldom have the peer-to-peer, networked communication tools they need to warn each other.

I thus recommended that Ushahidi retain their decentralized approach and apply crowdsourcing to early response. Yes, crowdsource warning AND response. Of course, local decentralized response is not always effective, so warnings must include concrete recommendations for response. These recommendations can be based on already existing preparedness and contingency plans. Indeed, Kenya already had these plans in place to respond to expected violence during the elections, but the plans were not implemented by officials, let alone communicated to local at risk communities.

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?

UN & Early Warning in Kenya, Georgia

I just had a particularly interesting meeting at the UN with several well-placed and highly experienced colleagues. The topic of conversation, unsurprisingly, was conflict early warning and conflict prevention.  Academics have long drummed up the various albeit few “successes” of early warning, so it was interesting that my UN colleagues cited Ghana, Guyana and Sierra Leone as their own recent success stories. Each intervention involved substantial prevention-related programs/projects, such as “social cohesion programs,” some one to three years prior to scheduled elections.
Equally interesting were the comments made in relation to Kenya and Georgia. In the case of the former, one senior colleague mentioned that,
Our own early warning ‘systems’… or rather analyses, mislead us… they suggested that the most conflict prone places would be in the north of the country, so we focused our preventive, training efforts there to reduce the likelihood of escalating ethnic tensions… this was back in March 2007. What we didn’t realize or expect, was that the Rift Valley would become so volatile, let alone the coastal region of Kenya.
In the case of Georgia, another senior colleague commented on the fact that,
We knew full well what was about to happen, we had our teams in the field, reporting on the increasingly dicy situation several months ago. In fact, we were fully expecting the situation to escalate in August. The problem, again, was not early warning.
When I pressed my colleague further on how exactly they knew, i.e., whether they were using specific and/or sophisticated methodologies for their conflict monitoring and analysis, the answer was no. Situational awareness, fact finding, in-country missions, sharing of information between agencies/contacts in Georgia and regular meetings to discuss the situation was in effect what constituted their conflict early warning system.

The conclusion I take from this meeting is not that early warning is not important, but that “good enough” analysis is more important than sophisticated approaches to conflict early warning and forecasting.