Al-Shabab factor in Kenyan election
Rafoss is a sessional instructor in the political studies department at the University of Saskatchewan. He plans to be in Kenya for its next election.
As Kenyans approach their general election on March 4, the question to be answered is not so much who will win but the effect the terrorist group Al-Shabab will have on the outcome.
President Mwai Kibaki is barred from running for a third term under Kenya’s constitution. This opens up the presidency for contenders from all backgrounds and political parties. Front-runners include the current prime minister, the vice-president and several prominent cabinet ministers.
Kenyan politics is a complex matrix of tribal politics and distinctive personalities woven into political parties who tend to come and go with the easterly winds. There are 14 main tribal groups actively courted by most politicians. This alone would be enough to make an election interesting.
In the days after the last general election in late 2007, violence broke out over determining the legitimate winner and more than 1,100 Kenyans were killed, much of it in tribal-based violence.
The UN’s Kofi Annan was called in to broker a peace agreement, and a grand coalition government was formed from the two largest parties. Opposition leader Raila Odinga was named prime minister, and he and Kibaki have ruled over Kenya since then.
In related developments, a new constitution was approved by Kenyans in 2011 to provide greater inclusion of citizens in an effort to avoid future bloodshed. But storm clouds are on the horizon in the form of Al-Shabab, an organized group of Somali-based Islamist militants bent on terrorizing Kenyans in an effort to advance its agenda.
Al-Shabab’s arsenal includes suicide bombings, kidnappings and, lately, throwing grenades into crowded markets and taverns. In the process, it has recruited disadvantaged Kenyan youths. The group’s goal appears to be to advance an Islamist agenda by destabilizing Kenyan politics.
The Kenyan government has responded to this national threat with force. The country’s defence forces have joined with other African nations under the coalition, African Union Mission in Somalia, to attack suspected strongholds of Al-Shabab in Southern Somalia and to kill its leaders. Whether this will be enough to stop the violence is unclear.
But precisely at the time that Kenya needs to demonstrate to the world that it is a mature democracy that can live by the outcome of free and fair elections, it is severely challenged by increasing presence of Al-Shabab, adding a religious layer to the complex matrix that is Kenyan politics.