By Sara Jerving*
NAIROBI — The crackling of gunshots have rung through parts of Nairobi for the past few days, as sporadic battles between rioters and police erupted in places including the Kibera slum, amidst a backdrop of torched shops, charred tires, broken glass and the intermittent hum of police helicopters.
The slum erupted in protests late Friday night in the moments after Kenya’s electoral commission announced that President Uhuru Kenyatta won a second term in office. His opponent, Raila Odinga, is contesting the vote as a “sham,” despite international and national observation groups expressing their confidence in the process. Kibera is considered a stronghold for Odinga. The violence in Kibera was just one of a handful of outbursts in Nairobi and western Kenya after the announcement.
As quickly as the violence broke out, the humanitarian community in Kenya began to activate contingency plans a year in the making. The government, aid groups and civil society in Kenya have been planning for any sort of tensions that could escalate before and after the election, creating likely scenarios and contingency plans, and trying to fill in gaps in the last weeks. Aid groups have divided duties throughout the country so that different organizations and agencies can take the lead in different areas, hoping to increase efficiency and mitigate the damage. Parts of theses plans have been put into motion in some areas, including Nairobi and Kisumu, where violence erupted.
Postelection violence has claimed the lives of at least 24 people, as of Saturday night, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. By Saturday morning in Kibera, Kenyan Red Cross Society vehicles raced through the streets, mapping out the violence and needs so that they could respond to injuries, providing prehospital care and medical evacuations. The organization has handled 108 serious injuries, including gunshot wounds, across the country.
“We are getting ready in case of any scenario. We hope that it is going to smooth down, but it can also get worse, including in other parts of Kenya, like the central part,” said Yann Libessart, East Africa communications coordinator for MSF. “We are just getting ready for anything.”
Kenya’s experience with postelection violence primed the humanitarian community for the risks this time. Violence in 2007 left over 1,000 dead and 600,000 displaced. There were also minor clashes and displacement after the 2013 election. The collective memory of this crisis, coupled with concerns that many of the underlying tensions that sparked the violence have not yet been resolved, prompted efforts to put a robust plan in place to mitigate violence in the lead-up to this year’s election.
Kenya’s Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, through its National Disaster Operations Centre, spearheaded a National Elections Contingency plan over the past year. This plan involved Kenyan government ministries, United Nations agencies working in Kenya, NGO and civil society, among others.
Specifically, the coordinator of the Kenyan government’s National Steering Committee for Peace and Conflict Management led early warning and prevention planning efforts; the National Police Service led security and safety planning efforts; the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs-supported Kenya Humanitarian Partners Team led humanitarian planning efforts; and the Ministry of Health and Kenyatta National Hospital led mass casualty efforts.
The plan revolves around eight decentralized humanitarian hubs. Each is led by various agencies and organizations, and serve as centers for coordination, logistics, storage and distribution. This model was also used during the 2013 elections.
As the largest humanitarian organization in Kenya, KRCS was assigned as the operational lead in all eight of hubs. It also played a key role in responding to violence that followed the 2007 election violence, when it provided emergency services including WASH, camp management, protection, recovery and reconstruction. It is acting independently, but is working closely with the government on coordination and information sharing.
KRCS pre-election monitoring identified 18 counties as potential hotspots, but then closer to the election it was reduced to 8 counties. The Kenyan government, supported by the U.N., developed similar hotspots. KRCS is responsible for leading in disaster responses where up to 150,000 people are impacted, so it is currently taking the lead. If there is displacement, then the coordination aspect of the hub system will be activated, said James Mwawgi, operations manager for KRCS.